Government to ‘consider options’ for biometrics regulation

Written by Sam Trendall on 9 May 2019 in News
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Immigration minister indicates that various courses of action will be examined before any legislation is passed

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The government is “considering options” for how best to regulate the use of facial recognition and other forms of biometric technology, according to immigration minister Caroline Nokes.

In response to a written parliamentary question from Change UK MP Luciana Berger, Nokes said that, in line with commitments made last year in the Home Office Biometrics Strategy, the government will shortly “develop options to simplify and extend governance and oversight of biometrics across the Home Office sector”.

Following the biometrics strategy’s publication in June 2018, the response from the Biometrics Commissioner Paul Wiles said that “it is disappointing that the Home Office document is not as forward-looking as one would expect from a strategy”.


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“In particular it does not propose legislation to provide rules for the use and oversight of new biometrics, including facial images,” Wiles added. “This is in contrast to Scotland, where such legislation has been proposed. Given that new biometrics are being rapidly deployed or trialled this failure to set out more definitively what the future landscape will look like in terms of the use and governance of biometrics appears short sighted at best.”

Nokes’ parliamentary answer said, prior to introducing any new laws, the government wished to first narrow down the possible options, then subject them to assessment.

“We are currently considering options for review,” she said. “The review will also look at other measures that can be taken to improve governance and use of biometrics in advance of possible legislation.”

In light of recent reports concerning the planned use of facial-recognition during security checks at Heathrow and other airports, Berger also asked about the government’s stance on the introduction of the technology at the UK border.

In response, minister of state for transport Jesse Norman said that “the government does not require airports to use facial recognition technology for security checks”, and that its use at Heathrow represents a “commercial decision” on the part of the airport. 

“Some airports are planning to introduce biometric technology which they hope will assist the passenger journey through their airports,” Norman added. “This use of biometrics will not change the required security checks. The Department [for Transport] regularly discusses and reviews airport security with all regulated UK airports.”

 

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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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