Emily Cho

The Digest: The UK Is Creating a Database of Citizens’ DNA and Other Biometrics

byKristin Houser
7. 2. 18
Emily Cho

It would include lots of data about law-abiding citizens, including their faces and voices.

BIG BROTHER, UK EDITION. Four years ago, the United Kingdom’s Home Office (the department responsible for immigration, security, and law enforcement) proposed developing a national strategy concerning biometrics, the biological measurements that can identify specific people, such as DNA or fingerprints. Now, the department created a report, titled, “Biometrics Strategy: Better Public Services Maintaining Public Trust,” that pushes the database closer to reality. The agency published it last week, according to The Telegraph.

ONE DATABASE TO RULE THEM ALL. In the report, the Home Office proposes creating a centralized database that would contain the biometric data of UK citizens.

The agency wouldn’t collect any data on its own. Instead, the database would be populated by biometrics already collected by various government agencies. For example, the centralized database could include the face data collected by passport agencies, the fingerprint data collected by law enforcement agencies, and the voice data collected by HM Revenues and Customs. Several, such as law enforcement, immigration, and the national database, collect citizen DNA.

The idea is that all the agencies will then have access to this single, more robust database. “By bringing [this data] together, HOB will deliver biometric services that will enable greater operational efficiency, flexibility, integration, and automation,” according to the report.

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INNOCENT UNTIL MISTAKEN FOR GUILTY. The proposed creation of this database is already generating backlash, mainly from privacy groups concerned about its impact on law-abiding citizens. In 2012, one of the highest courts in the UK ruled it was illegal for police to keep the mugshots of innocent people in their databases. However, UK police have yet to remove hundreds of thousands such photos, claiming it would cost too much.

If the UK moves forward with its proposed centralized database, it will include the faces of those people, making them searchable by facial recognition systems, which aren’t always terribly accurate. One such system used by police in Wales — a nation in the UK — produced false positives 90 percent of the time, repeatedly identifying law-abiding citizens as criminals.

Storing all this biometric information in a single database could also prove to be a security nightmare — bad actors would just need to hack one database to access all the sensitive information.

The UK plans to spend the next 12 months considering the biometrics strategy proposed by the report, so the sensitive information of UK citizens will remain scattered across the various agencies — for now.

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READ MORE: Facial Recognition to Be Ramped up Across British Borders [The Telegraph]


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