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Government hints at biometric regulations

Immigration minister says options are being considered around governance and oversight of biometric technologies use

The Home Office has responded to concerns over the lack of rules for the use and oversight of biometric technologies by saying it is looking into the best course of action on the matter.

Responding to a written parliamentary question from MP Luciana Berger on whether the Home Office planned to bring forward legislation to regulate the use of facial recognition technology, including at airports, immigration minister Caroline Nokes said: “Options are being considered.”

Nokes added: “The government committed, in the Home Office Biometrics Strategy 2018, to develop options to simplify and extend governance and oversight of biometrics across the Home Office sector. This includes law enforcement, border and immigration control use of biometrics.”

The minister said the review would also look at “other measures that can be taken to improve governance and use of biometrics in advance of possible legislation”.

Last month, MP David Davis asked Cabinet Office minister David Lidington what safeguards were in place to protect the security and privacy of citizens’ data held by the systems underpinning the Home Office biometrics programme.

Davis asked Lidington what the government planned to do to ensure the data would not be “held by foreign companies subject to foreign government laws giving foreign governments access to British citizens’ private data”.

In response, Lidington said home secretary Sajid Javid would “give the highest priority to ensuring the security of that sensitive personal data”.

When the UK biometrics strategy was launched last year, Home Office minister Susan Williams said that by implementing and consulting on the commitments made in the strategy, the aim is to increase public confidence in government use of biometric data.

But critics said the long-awaited document fell short of the mark, failing to provide a detailed and coherent strategy or governance framework. The approach used by the Home Office and the police for collecting, retaining and re-using facial images has also been criticised.

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