Commissioner responds to statement by Policing Minister for England and Wales about UK Police National Database (PND)
It has been widely reported in the media that Christopher Philp, a junior Minister within the UK Government serving as Minister of State for Crime, Policing and Fire (England and Wales) has stated that he plans to integrate the semi-automated facial search capability within the UK Police National Database (PND) with the UK Passport Office database containing the images of 45 million UK passport holders. It has also been reported that his intention is to allow the police (within his jurisdiction) to use facial search technology to compare CCTV images of suspects from volume crimes scenes such as shoplifting against the UK Passport database by linking it with the Police National Database (PND).
As policing in Scotland (and Northern Ireland) is (mostly) devolved. It is important to highlight that the views expressed by the junior Minister about the future of ‘UK’ policing databases neglect the consequences of devolution. In any debates about the future of ‘UK’ policing databases, it is important that Westminster Ministers do not make unilateral policy declarations without consulting the devolved nations of the UK who both contribute data to, and co-fund, those UK policing databases, and who operate under entirely distinct legal frameworks for policing and criminal justice.
As Scottish Biometrics Commissioner, I wish to state publicly that I view this egregious proposal as unethical and potentially unlawful. I also wish to align myself with those who have condemned this proposal as a gross violation of British privacy principles. The suggestion that images given voluntarily to UK Government agencies for a specific purpose by law abiding citizens to obtain a UK passport or UK driving licence should then be capable of being routinely accessed by the police and ‘bulk washed’ against images from low level crime scenes is neither proportionate nor strictly necessary and would significantly damage public trust. In Scotland, it would also conflict with the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner’s statutory Code of Practice as approved by the Scottish Parliament.