back to article UK cops caught using 12 MILLION Brits' mugshots on pic database

The legality of uploading of millions of photographs to the Police National Database for automated facial recognition tech searches has been called into question by the UK's Biometrics Commissioner. In his first annual report Alastair MacGregor QC said some 12 million custody photographs had been uploaded to the PND by the …

  1. WonkoTheSane
    Big Brother

    In other news...

    Stores report sudden spike in sales of Groucho Glasses & Guy Fawkes masks

    1. Cronus

      Re: In other news...

      Why? It says they are uploading custody photographs so presumably these are photographs taken of people while they are held in custody but not necessarily ever convicted of something. I suspect police are capable of taking off the disguises before taking the photographs...

      1. CaptainHook

        Re: In other news...

        Why? It says they are uploading custody photographs

        *****

        You're assuming they are matching the custody photo to other custody photo's as opposed to say matching a custody photo to a picture of someone on the street (public protests, sporting events cctv images etc) as a way of identifying people outside of custody.

        The masks will be worn in public, not in custody.

      2. Graham Marsden
        Big Brother

        @Cronus - Re: In other news...

        > photographs taken of people while they are held in custody but not necessarily ever convicted of something

        Exactly. We have the Right to be Presumed Innocent, that is why, now, if you are arrested and then released without charge, any fingerprints and DNA taken must be destroyed.

        These photographs should be treated in the same way.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: In other news...

      How long until 'masks' are deemed illegal, everywhere?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's his beef?

    I must say I can't see MacGregor's concerns. According to the article these photos are already police custody photographs, so they're on record anyway, and the "risks" to all involved are no different to having some plod sitting and going through the big book of mugshots manually. Personally I'd rather the police were out on the beat rather than sitting drinking tea because some QC has conjured a largely imaginary risk.

    1. Tom_

      Re: What's his beef?

      I suppose there's some amount of risk that the computer will go, "It's him" and the police officer will have a quick look and agree and then go and bother that person, whereas in the past they may have put more thought into whether the picture really matched. In other words, the computer identification may be treated as more reliable than it ought to, just on the grounds of it coming from a computer.

      It's a bit of a stretch, though. I'd have thought that the advantage of a computer being able to present, say, a dozen potential matches quickly and let the police officer review those would be a good thing.

      1. Graham Marsden
        Facepalm

        @Tom_ - Re: What's his beef?

        > I'd have thought that the advantage of a computer being able to present, say, a dozen potential matches quickly and let the police officer review those would be a good thing.

        What a great idea! We're looking for a paedophile and Tom_'s face looks like a potential match, so we'll stroll into his workplace and interview him.

        Of course when we've decided he's not a suspect and gone away, everyone will think "well that's ok then" and *nobody* will think "there's no smoke without fire" or "they wouldn't have interviewed him unless he was a wrong'un", will they...?

    2. 2460 Something

      Re: What's his beef?

      I would have thought it is mostly down to the fact that a large number of people have not actually been convicted of anything. A good number of them will be actually innocent (as opposed to being guilty as hell but getting off on technicalities/not enough evidence) and yet will now have their mug shot incorporated into a system that is suspect to begin with.

    3. dogged
      Black Helicopters

      Re: What's his beef?

      If it's as untested as he says, a) the number of false positives will be scary and b) a decent lawyer should be able to have any evidence based on it struck from evidence (barring Theresa May going even more She-Wolf of the SS and passing some bullshit law forbidding judges from striking shitty evidence).

      Add in a reprise of that little wheeze where they can bang you up for 40 days without charge and it's a brilliant tool for teaching people with dissenting opinions a harsh lesson - how many students and protestors have been arrested, DNA-swabbed, photographed, fingerprinted and released without charge? Probably millions by now. Even better if you mutter "terrorism" and D-Notice the whole thing.

      1. Dave Bell

        Re: What's his beef?

        Please, don't call Theresa May the She-Wolf of the SS.

        She doesn't look sexy enough for a porn movie to make a profit.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What's his beef?

      They already have lots of innocent peoples mugshots in the form of driving licence photos and passport photos which will certainly be in the security services facial recognition database.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What's his beef?

        > They already have lots of innocent peoples mugshots in the form of driving licence photos and passport photos which will certainly be in the security services facial recognition database

        If so then someone should be having a word as the police shouldn't have access to those databases without the proper legal mandates.

        Even if the police do have unfettered legal access your implied arguament here is that the custody photo database is acceptable because they are already doing it anyway. This is an example of the "appeal to tradition" logical fallacy. The fact that they may be already doing it doesn't make it OK.

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: What's his beef?

          If so then someone should be having a word as the police shouldn't have access to those databases without the proper legal mandates,

          Valid point, except there's 'prior art/activity' in form of Security Agencies having all the access they want without having proper legal mandate. It would be good if these types of rulings filtered the other way such that the agencies were forced to acquire proper mandate. But it will probably go the other way whereby the plod will receive greater power.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What's his beef?

          @AC

          Even if the police do have unfettered legal access your implied arguament here is that

          There is no argument as it was just a statement of fact; the inference was all yours.

          However as you have made a point behind a blob of anonymous custard, I feel I must counter. The Police have a far more dangerous and legal power which is to collect your DNA sample, keeping mugshots of the convicted (of the just arrested is overreach) that they can use in later investigation in my eyes is valid. Be far more worried what they can do with your DNA than your image.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Big Brother

            Re: What's his beef?

            Yes they can put it "Where it does most good" for an arrest that is

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What's his beef?

          If so then someone should be having a word as the police shouldn't have access to those databases without the proper legal mandates.

          a) The police have no need of laws to govern their own behaviour. They are beyond reproach. Those who believe otherwise must be arrested for "obstructing an officer in the course of his duties".

          b) There was no public debate before the introduction of the "CCTV Everywhere" policy, that is supposed to have reduced crime but hasn't. So why have one now, it clearly wasn't needed then, and equally clearly isn't needed now.

          c) The use of automatic facial recognition on every CCTV feed in the land will be an essential tool for fighting crime. If you oppose that, then you must be a terrorist with something to hide. So the police will arrest you and rummage through your house until they find something to charge you with.

          d) The Legacy argument that English Common Law considered a person innocent until proven guilty has been sliding down a slippery slope ever since the Health & Safety at Work Act in 1974. That Act was the first instance of a defendant having to prove their innocence instead of the Crown having to prove guilt. The defendant needing to prove his innocence has now become commonplace as English law is rapidly aligned with the EU Corpus Juris (aka Napoleonic Law).

          We are lost, and this is but one small part of it. Our rulers have turned against us.

  3. Mike 140

    Comparing against 10 million mugshots will take a lot of tea.

    1. billse10

      it's a lot fewer police out there assaulting people who are bystanders (not going to repeat a previous post)

  4. baseh

    Non-existent privacy

    In this day and age of electronic and Internet everything you should assume that nothing is private anymore and your profile is available to anyone with a computer, even the retarded govt bodies

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Pirate

      Re: Non-existent privacy

      Doesn't mean we should like it, nor that we shouldn't work against it - does it?

  5. DavCrav Silver badge

    About the "More from the Register" below this article: do you only have one photo of a police car? I would offer you another, but I'd be worried I'd be arrested for photography legally.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      You have nothing to worry about, as long as you do not exceed the maximum allowable height limit for photographers in public places.

      1. DavCrav Silver badge

        "You have nothing to worry about, as long as you do not exceed the maximum allowable height limit for photographers in public places."

        That guy was 5'11" and 12 stone. I'm 6'1" and 15 stone. Definitely fucked there.

  6. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
    WTF?

    Sir

    One assumes that this will lead to pictures being used from social media sources at some point (if not already) which is very dodgy ground unless they are led there by a particular set of leads and information.

    At some point, someone, somewhere, is getting paid money to process these pictures, which means they would be in breach of copyright if they don't have the copyright holders permission, doesn't it?

    After all, making money from someone's creative work is an even more heinous crime than just making a copy for your own use apparently.

  7. plrndl
    Big Brother

    Deus Ex Machina

    If the computer says “it's him” most people, plods included, will believe the computer against all other evidence, no matter how irrational that may appear to the knowledgeable outside observer. You'd have no chance ina jury trial.

    1. Graham Marsden

      Re: Deus Ex Machina

      "If the computer says “it's him” most people, plods included, will believe the computer against all other evidence"

      Such as the case of Raymond Easton from Swindon who was arrested for a burglary in Bolton because a DNA sample taken from him years before seemed to match the perpetrator's DNA.

      The fact that Easton had never been to Bolton and had Parkinson's Disease which meant he could barely walk to his own front door, let alone travel to Bolton, break in through a window and commit a burglary didn't seem to be relevant because "Well, we've got a DNA match..."

  8. Whitter
    Boffin

    Storage/retrieval of ID should not be done without (a) due cause and (b) suitable permission. Mug shots forcibly taken from innocent people certainly doesn't meet case (b).

    There could be a case for storing / using images of "everyone" in order to generate a "fit curve" (this image is 47% likely to be criminal X, 85% likely to be criminal Y, 69% likely to be one of 45 IDs withheld, 68% likely to be one of 38 IDs withheld and so on) such that the confidence of the match (or lack thereof) is better described. (A similar approach could also be made for DNA matching for example). The overt downside to that any such ID database is that it would inevitably be breached, either electronically or, more simply, by bribery/theft.

    That's "could be": they'd have to argue it out in parliament and change the law if so, as such an approach would be a clear breach of rights under the current law.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    as with all these things, for now its catching terrorists, soon it'll be sending you a latter because you put your bins out on the wrong millisecond.

    Seriously - stop going all minority report and train the police to do their job properly!

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    12 million custody photographs

    That seems quite a lot for a nation of roughly 65 million.

    1. Cal

      Re: 12 million custody photographs

      Welcome to the world we live in.

      A large number of those will have been released no charge, but would have had a PNC record created and thus a picture.

      Many will not have been charged because they were innocent, the vast majority will not have been charged because the legal requirements weren't met to charge them.

      Guess what? I've been a cop for ten years - I've never interviewed somebody who wasn't guilty of the crime, but there have been plenty of times where sufficiency hasn't been met and they've been released without charge.

      Very, very rarely will a truly innocent person get hauled in for interview. Even before you get to that stage, you've got to have a huge whack of evidence.

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: 12 million custody photographs

        So you're saying that 20% of the population has committed at least one arrestable offence, and been arrested for it?

        What proportion of such offences go unreported, or have no arrests made in connection with them?

        Seems to me that if that many of the population are criminals, maybe the definition of "crime" needs some rethinking. Or maybe your arrest policies do.

        The UK plod used to be some of the finest in the world. Not sure when that changed, possibly the miners' strike of 1984 had something to do with it, but we've come a long way since then.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Holmes

        Re: 12 million custody photographs

        I've been a cop for ten years - I've never interviewed somebody who wasn't guilty of the crime, but there have been plenty of times where sufficiency hasn't been met and they've been released without charge.

        Wow. Just wow. Are you really saying these people are guilty despite having no evidence? Or maybe just the wrong colour.

        1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

          Re: 12 million custody photographs

          I think some of you have missed the bit where the copper said most of the photo's will have been of people who were innocent.

          I see no connection between the interviews of only guilty people and the photo's of 12 million people.

          Whilst you get a range of personality types for coppers (same as you do in regular jobs) the biggest problem is that the system they are forced to adhere to is skewed to encourage certain actions and priorities, unintentional consequences and all.

          Most techies will recognise the Sales person who sells the unsupportable product/service just to get their commission which the techies then have to deliver - same kind of thing. If the logic isn't correct at the input stage, it sure as hell isn't going to give you the right answer at the output.

  11. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

    legal framework for this? same as anpr.

  12. dvd

    The fact that it's untested is unlikely to be seen as an issue with the police.

    After all, it's still unproven that fingerprints are unique ..............

  13. JaitcH
    WTF?

    Amd what of those millions of ...

    passport mugshots?

    Hard to imagine that Plod has forgotten about that treasure trove.

    These days you can gently massage them with Photoshop and the Passport Agency doesn't even spot it! Modern high-tech government is great.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Welcome to UK.Stasi

    Regards

    T.May.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: Welcome to UK.Stasi

      'K, GB!

  15. Wolfclaw Silver badge

    Dodgy Dealings Afoot !

    Police maybe doing something illegal, now that would be a rare occurance !

    No doubt some pea brain at the Justice deapt. is laready beavering away to see if a law exists to let the copper soff the hook and if not, how quickly they can make one up and get it passed Parliment by the back door !

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It doesn't matter...

    if you've never been charged or convicted. The very fact you were in police custody means you'll have a PNC record created which will have your image on it.

    Fuck it. If you've nothing to worry about, who cares?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Explain to me

    why people get so upset about the concept of the Police having all the custody images on record and easily accessible when we happily give our images to:

    - DVLA

    - UK Border Agency

    - Perhaps our employer

    - Social media et al

    - The internetz as a whole due to above

    - Photo booth machines (Who knows what actually happens to those images?!)

    and so on, and so on. Our images are already held by numerous organisations.

    Lets see, for myself:

    Employer

    UK Athletics

    DVLA

    UK BA

    So that's four totally separate agencies with my image.

    If I really cared about my privacy, I wouldn't just shout and cry over the obvious culprit when it comes to misusing that data.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Re: Explain to me

      Except there are laws that cover those companies/agencies passing your personal details on to anyone else, and they certainly aren't going to be putting your mugshot through a series of checks to see if you mugged, raped and killed an old granny last week.

  18. Neoc

    Prefer QLD rulings on biometrics

    For all its other faults, the QLD judicial system requires that you must be *convicted* of an offence for your biometrics (photos, fingerprints, DNA) to be retained. Otherwise, they must be destroyed as soon as the case is closed (and several people need to sign off on their destruction).

  19. Winkypop Silver badge
    Joke

    Plenty of Tea Leaves

    Police to run a new dating site.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Meh

    Commercial?

    how long before the Gov decides to sell off this database to a private organisation which then sells the functionality to Shops - so if you look like a T-leaf or there is a false positive you soon will not be able to enter a great many Shops/Public buildings. Still there is the Internet and the friendly people like Amazon et al who surely dont misuse your ID data...

  21. Clamps Silver badge

    I'm in the "who cares" camp

    and STILL no one has explained the problem. "Not charged?" so what?

    Photographing should be mandatory every ten years for everyone. Wait a min it already is for Passport and driving licence holders - expand to everyone!.

    plus all DNA taken.

    No, I'm not joking - i know there will be many downvotes.

    Surely the security and crime prevention advantages outweigh vague mutterings about "Civil liberties" which no one has ever been able to explain to me.

    Apparently we'll all be turned into robot slaves or something like in 1984? bullshit. measures can be put in place...

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019