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Updated 10 January 2022
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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/biometrics-and-forensics-ethics-group-meeting-minutes/bfeg-meeting-minutes-20-october-2021
Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group
Notes of the 17th meeting held on 20 October 2021, at 110 Rochester Row, London and via videoconference.
1.1 Mark Watson-Gandy, Chair, welcomed all to the 17th meeting of the Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group (BFEG) – see annex A for attendees and apologies.
1.2 The Chair introduced three incoming committee members, David Lewis, Sarah Morris, and Nina Hallowell, whose appointments to the BFEG commenced as of this meeting. The official appointment of two further members was pending completion of their security clearances.
2.1 The minutes of the June meeting had been circulated and no corrections were noted. The minutes would be finalised and published by the secretariat.
Action 1: Secretariat to publish the minutes of the previous meeting.
2.2 A review of open actions from previous meetings can be found in annex B.
2.3 All other actions were complete.
2.4 The Chair informed the BFEG that he attended the Home Office Science Advisory Council meeting in September 2021.
3.1 The group received an update from the Forensic Information Databases Strategy Board (FIND SB).
The main points were:
3.2 In response to the update a member of the BFEG asked whether the UK would be able to use the familial DNA search tools developed by Interpol as these tools would offer advantages over the existing UK methods. The BFEG was informed that a team at FINDS had received an introduction to this tool and there were plans for further training and testing.
3.3 The FINDS representative was asked what the cause of deletion from the PNC had been and what steps had been taken to prevent a repeat. Members were informed that the root cause was an update within PNC and increased resourcing for PNC updates and testing had been provided to prevent reoccurrence. This risk would be monitored by the DNA operations group.
3.4 The draft international DNA and fingerprint data exchange policy had been shared with the members ahead of the meeting and comments on the draft were provided:
Action 2: FINDS to share the Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) for the International Exchange Policy with the BFEG if possible.
3.5 At the June 2020 meeting the BFEG was presented with a proposal to allow searching of the VPDD against DNA profiles sourced from unidentified body/part(s), and certain crime scene profiles.
3.6 Following a request by the BFEG to update the VPDD consent form to improve readability an update was presented at the December 2020 meeting for review and members noted that section A of the form was very dense and hard to read, with complex terms.
3.7 The wording in Section A of the consent form had been updated and the BFEG were asked to agree the updated Vulnerable Persons DNA Database consent form. The following issues with the form were highlighted by the members:
3.8 The issues listed above would be addressed, however the FINDS representative stated that detail of technical terms could not be included on the consent form. It was suggested that the DNA information leaflet be provided with the form and, if not already included, a glossary be added that would explain the technical terms used. The BFEG offered assistance with the drafting of the glossary.
Action 3: A glossary to be created to accompany DNA consent forms to explain technical terms.
3.9 The BFEG also asked for information to be provided regarding retention of the DNA sample material taken for the VPDD. It should be confirmed whether DNA material was being retained and if so, for what reason and for how long.
Action 4: FINDS to clarify whether DNA material taken for the VPDD is retained and if so for what reason and for how long.
4.1 The group had received an update from Data and Identity Policy ahead of the meeting and the main points were:
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport had announced a consultation to deliver an independent policy on data outside of the EU. This included proposals relating to biometrics including; simplify oversight by further consolidating commissioner roles; making it easier to amend the rules on collection, retention and use of biometrics, as new technologies emerge; and develop a Code of Practice on police use of emerging technologies.
Policy colleagues had attended the first meeting of the National Police Chiefs Council Custody Images working group, established by Chief Constable Lee Freeman in September. The aims are to improve compliance through better awareness of existing rules, and to evaluate technical solutions for automatic deletion. A key output will be to recommend what the retention and deletion rules should be going forward to inform the legislative proposals and the development of automatic deletion.
The Policy team was working with colleagues in Migration & Borders to assess the Marriage Assessment Process with the aim of ensuring that policy around automated classification systems was consistently and appropriately validated by case workers. Policy would be seeking views from the BFEG in due course.
A report had been produced on the impact of forensic science on the criminal justice system and had been shared with members.
4.2 The Policy lead thanked the BFEG members for the contributions to the consultation on the update to the Surveillance Camera Code. A response to the BFEG comments would be provided following discussions with the statutory consultees.
4.3 A BFEG member suggested an open discussion of the SCC would be beneficial and this was also supported by the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner.
5.1 The Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner (BSCC) provided the BFEG with an update. The two main points the Commissioner wanted to highlight were the DCMS data reform consultation and the use of facial recognition systems supplied by Hikvision in the UK.
5.2 DCMS had launched a consultation on reforms to the UK’s data protection regime which included proposals on simplifying the oversight framework for the police’s use of biometrics and overt surveillance. The Commissioner stated that in his view it was important to recognise that these changes proposed in the data reform consultation went beyond a proposal to simplify, with a proposal that the remit of the BSCC be absorbed by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
5.3 The members were in agreement that any absorption of BSCC functions by the ICO would require significant additional resources to cover the wider scope.
5.4 The Policy sponsor stated that as the consultation was about the ICO it was sensible to utilise the consultation to ask for views on the wider oversight framework. The aim of any changes would be to make the oversight framework clearer. The views of the BFEG on this consultation would be welcomed. This consultation would be covered in the following item, item 6.
5.5 The BSCC gave an update on his conversations with Hikvision, these were noted as having been unconstructive and the Commissioner had raised his concerns during a meeting with Baroness Williams of Trafford. The BSCC suggested the BFEG may like to consider taking a position over the use of Hikvision facial recognition products by UK public authorities.
5.6 The Chair thanked the Commissioner for raising this issue but noted that taking a position on this would be outside of the BFEG’s remit.
6.1 On the 10th of September the Government launched a consultation on reforms to data protection.
6.2 Section 5.8 of the consultation document included a proposal to transfer the responsibilities of the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner (BSCC) to the Information Commissioner.
6.3 The specific questions asked by the government were:
6.4 The BFEG agreed that a strong response should be submitted to the consultation from the BFEG.
6.5 Initial views from the members included:
6.6 Initial responses had been received from individual members which the secretariat would circulate to all members. Members were asked to submit their comments on the consultation questions to the secretariat by the 1st of November to allow a response to be drafted ahead of the consultation deadline on 19 of November.
Action 5: Members to send comments on the DCMS Data Reform Consultation by the 1st of November, BFEG response to the consultation to be drafted and submitted by the 19 of November.
7.1 The BFEG heard a presentation from Home Office Digital Data and Technology (DDaT) about capability being developed, the National Police Data Lab (NPDL), to better enable the Home Office to work with national police datasets. The NDPL would support proof of concept (PoC) analysis on national police datasets, designed to support evidence-based decision making.
7.2 The Home Office were seeking advice from the BFEG to define a set of principles to guide the ethical assessment of PoC projects undertaken using NPDL.
Action 6: Continue to work with DDaT to define the ethical principles and processes for using the NPDL capability.
8.1 The BFEG heard a presentation from members of the Migration and Borders Group of the Home Office on the future biometrics policy.
8.2 Future biometrics policy would require facial images and fingerprints to be captured from all foreign nationals subject to immigration controls coming to the UK.
8.3 Such a requirement would only be implemented once remote self-enrolment technology was advanced enough to capture both face and fingerprint biometrics remotely, building on the Identity Verification application developed for the EU Settlement Scheme.
8.4 The advice of the BFEG would be sought on the considerations for designing a fair, non-discriminatory process for those who will be required to self-enrol their biometrics in the future.
8.5 The presentation was followed by an initial workshop session to begin to consider the ethical issues in potential future user journeys.
Action 7: Follow up on the Borders workshop with the Migration and Borders Group.
9.1 The Scottish Biometrics Commissioner (SBC) had completed a draft of his proposed Code of Practice relating to the acquisition, use, retention, and destruction of biometric data for criminal justice and police purposes in Scotland.
9.2 The SBC had approached the BFEG for comments on the draft Code, particularly on whether the Code formed the basis of reasonable professional practice, and the individual descriptors for the 12 General Principles.
9.3 The consultation on the draft Code was open until 31 December 2021.
9.4 It was agreed that the BFEG would review the draft Code and provide a response to the consultation.
Action 8: BFEG to submit a BFEG response to the consultation on the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner’s draft Code of Practice.
10.1 At the June 2021 meeting the secretariat was asked to create a log of legal rulings that were relevant to the BFEG.
10.2 A log had been created based on rulings highlighted by the members and recent rulings shared with the group by the Chair.
10.3 The secretariat sought guidance from the members on how this log should be maintained and what action should be taken regarding discussion of these cases.
10.4 The members asked that rulings continued to be circulated and it was agreed that the members would inform the secretariat of cases that should be discussed at a subsequent BFEG meeting.
11.1 A workplan had been drafted and shared with the members ahead of the meeting to provide the group with a summary of the workstreams of the BFEG. Members were asked if the format was useful and easy to follow and whether they would like any changes.
11.2 Minor changes to the workplan were suggested and would be made by the secretariat.
11.3 The Chair sought a new working group Chair and an additional member for the Biometrics and Digital Forensics Working Group. Nominations were made and agreed.
11.4 Members discussed the need to change the name of the Facial Recognition Working Group to reflect the fact that the Group would look at a wider range of biometric recognition technologies. It was agreed that the name would be changed to the Biometric Recognition Technologies Working Group. The secretariat would update the workplan.
Action 9: Secretariat to update the workplan.
12.1 The Chair asked the members whether they would be willing to consider advanced security vetting if this was required. A number of members commented that they were willing to consider this. The secretariat would provide further information if this vetting was required.
12.2 It was suggested that it would assist members with considering issues brought to the BFEG if presenters were asked to first consider the BFEG ethical principles. This was agreed and the secretariat would develop a template to provide to presenters based on the BFEG ethical principles.
Action 9: Secretariat to develop a template to provide to presenters based on the BFEG ethical principles.
12.3 The next BFEG meeting would be a virtual meeting, held on 14th of December 2021.
12.4 An away day was suggested for the June 2022 meeting and this was agreed.
Action 3: Secretariat to create a log of legal judgements that were relevant to the BFEG. Covered under agenda item 10.
Action 5: Secretariat to arrange a discussion on futures in biometric recognition technology (e.g. voice), liaise with Alex and Ian Betts. Action ongoing.
Action 1: (FINDS to share draft UK-EU data sharing agreement to allow BFEG to consider ethical issues in international data exchange of biometrics). Covered under agenda item 3.
Action 2: (BFEG member to raise with relevant groups the lack of oversight of familial DNA search algorithms used by Forensic Service Providers). A report had been provided to the Chair. Action complete.
Action 3: (FINDS to provide an update on efficacy and false positive matches following the introduction of the new familial DNA policy). FINDS had carried out some review work on the requirements that Forensic Service Providers (FSPs) need to meet to conduct National DNA Database (NDNAD) familial searches and would begin to consider how to assess the impact of the new policy. Action ongoing.
Action 2: (Update on the revised police guidance and Public Sector Equality Duty proposal with Cardiff University) – Cardiff University were no longer to undertake an equitability evaluation. This work would be carried out by the National Physics Lab with results expected by April 2022. Action complete.
Action 3: (Complex Datasets working group to produce general guidance on ethical issues in binary classification systems). The secretariat was working with relevant stakeholders to identify useful areas for general guidance. Action ongoing.
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