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Police National Database: Facial Images

Volume 779: debated on Thursday 2 March 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the storage of the 19 million facial images uploaded onto the police national database is compliant with data protection legislation.

My Lords, legislation gives police the power to take and store facial images from arrested persons. There has been no successful legal challenge to the retention of images on the PND on data protection grounds, but the Government acknowledge that there are privacy issues. The custody images review has now been published and makes recommendations for improvements to the retention regime.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. She will know that the review published last week into the 19 million images held on the police national database was in response to a High Court case of 2012 that found that treating the images of convicted and non-convicted individuals the same was unlawful. How do the new rules in the review make it lawful when it states that the images both of convicted and non-convicted individuals can be stored and used on the police national database for 10 years?

My Lords, there is a presumption of deletion in certain categories—certainly for the under-18s, for those not convicted, as the noble Lord said, and for people who have been convicted of a non-recordable offence. These can all request that their images be deleted, but there are exceptions which I think are reasonable—if there is a substantive reason to believe that someone is linked to terrorism, if they are dangerous or if they are linked to organised crime. Otherwise, there is now an arrangement whereby people can request deletion.

My Lords, I am surprised that there are so few photographic records available to the police. I should have thought that there was a good case for all passport photographs to be available to the police. Does my noble friend agree that given a conflict between fighting serious crime, particularly terrorism, and privacy, the British people would almost certainly regard the former as having priority?

My noble friend talks about privacy. If everybody was required to put their passport photographs towards a national database there might be a real issue with privacy. What the Government are trying to do, and my noble friend alluded to it, is to have images on record of people previously convicted of a crime. The custody image review is attempting to get rid of the facial images of those who are not convicted—and I include myself in that. If you have a passport but have not been convicted, I am not sure what benefit your photograph could be to the police national database.

Is this not a matter of balance? Does the Minister agree that the keeping of an innocent person’s image on a database is of far less consequence than being the innocent victim of a violent crime?

The noble Lord is absolutely right: it is a question of balance. It is a balance between enabling the police to do their job and to have a good database of criminals and those who have been convicted but also, as he says, if you are an innocent person, of not having your face on the database.

My Lords, can the Minister explain why the police are apparently not going to identify and remove the photographs of innocent people that are currently on the database? If there is a name and a date of birth connected with each photograph, why cannot that be run against the police national computer? If the Government are saying that the police can develop a national identification database, why do they not say so? At least the Labour Party is being honest that that is what it wants. Why cannot the Government?

I am not sure I entirely get the tenor of the noble Lord’s question. If you are not convicted of an offence and your image is on the database you can request that it be—

From now on; the noble Lord is absolutely right. However, if your face is currently on the database, you can say, “It has been on there for 10 years and please will you remove it?”.

As has been said, the review has just been announced by the Government in a Written Statement of 24 February. Interestingly enough, the Statement managed to make no reference to the fact that the review arose from a judgment against the Government in 2012—which begs the question of why that was not included in the Statement—and we will have to wait to see whether the arrangements now proposed will lead to another legal challenge. Since the recommendation for a review, which is being adopted, is that “unconvicted persons” can,

“apply for deletion of their custody image”—

that is, they have to take the initiative to apply, which is the point that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is making, but I do not wish to repeat the question that he asked—what steps will the Government take to ensure that widespread publicity is given to the fact that millions of unconvicted peopled can now apply for deletion of their custody image? What form will the Government’s advertising and publicity campaign take, since the 2012 judgment was in a case against the Secretary of State? How much money do the Government intend to spend on their advertising and publicity campaign to advise millions of people of their right in respect of deletion of their record?

The noble Lord is absolutely right that the Government recognised that the 2012 judgment said it was contrary to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and that has now been addressed through the custody images review. I assume that there will be something on GOV.UK about publicity regarding innocent people whose faces are still on the database, but I will get back to the noble Lord on the precise steps that we will take.

Can the Minister say whether, beyond the UK data protection and legislative issues, the Americans, through their Patriot Act, have any form of access to the police national database?

Generally, the presumption is that anyone concerned with crime, and fighting crime, will have access to the PND. As to which countries will have that access, clearly there are international arrangements for the sharing of data, and I am sure that that includes America.

My Lords, I still do not understand how an innocent member of the public will know that their image is on the database. Surely it would be easier for the police just to delete those innocent people without putting them to the trouble of applying. It would be more work for the police that way.

The noble Baroness has a point, but in fact it is a manual process and would be incredibly resource-intensive. There will be people who do not mind their image being there. If my image were on the PND, although I do not think that it is—[Interruption.] If the noble Baroness’s is, I would expect her to request deletion immediately.