back to article Brit cops can keep millions of mugshots of innocent folks on file

After unlawfully hoarding millions of mugshots of one-time suspects, police chiefs in England and Wales were this week told to delete the snaps – but only if people in the photos complain. And even then, requests can be easily waved away. This is all set out in the UK Home Office's "Review of the Use and Retention of Custody …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Orwell

    Nuff said.

    Wonder if this is just the tip of the iceberg or are there other things we aren't being told, say a certain agency hacking people's routers and "accidentally" dumping the entire contents of their HDD for later analysis? The problem is that in combination with lots of borderline techniques like passive phone tracking via SSID and setting up devices via a custom firmware hack to broadcast their location by turning the FM radio chip on and off at regular intervals, its hard *NOT* to be on some database or other.

    Contrary to popular belief it is quite feasible to override the lockout that stops the FM working if the antenna is not connected, the range is about 50 feet and I did my own tests that proves even a lowly Nokia el cheapo "burner" can be thusly traced with a flawed SMS disguised as an advertising message. Hint: if the phone battery runs down faster than usual, suspect mischief.

    Also having an RF sniffer is very useful if you want to see if your phone is playing shadow games and turning its camera /NFC/etc on at stupid times etc. 13.22 MHz

  2. Voland's right hand Silver badge
    Trollface

    The giggle you hear in the Red Square is coming from the wall

    If you are wondering why there is a manic giggle audible across the Red Square, it is coming from the cemetery next to the wall. Brezhnev, Suslov and Chernenko are laughing their asses off so loud that you can hear them on the other side of the (rather large) pavement.

    I am not going to quote what Suslov said about the Helsinki declaration of human rights. It is on file - look it up (it is proving to be 100% true).

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What a spectacularly questionable argument..

    Astonishingly, the Home Office stopped short of demanding the deletion of all images of innocent people no longer under investigation because, apparently, there are so many photos on file, it would be impractical to ask officers to go through all their databases and remove photographs of individuals who have never been convicted of an offence.

    Excuse me, but even for politics this is a load of BS. That's like citizens stating that they have so many speeding tickets and parking fines that it would simply be impractical to pay them all, they will still get done for them and hounded for the extra income, thank you very much. The law applies to EVERYONE. If you deem something too much like hard work you should have thought of that when you started breaking the law in the first place.

    Even without SPECIFIC advice it was well known that there was a problem - they could have stopped there and then, and in my opinion data gathered and held in conflict of the first review after that was published should become flat out illegal and should make victims eligible for compensation. To explain the latter: I don't believe in handouts per sé, but in my experience it is unlikely that anyone gets off their fat behind unless it's likely to cost them money.

    1. K Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: What a spectacularly questionable argument..

      Simple - its acceptable for the "Establishment" to feign misinterpretation.. Yet joe-public is tarred as a public enemy/rebel/etc if they do the same!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What a spectacularly questionable argument..

      Ha, yeah I had to read that bit more than once.

      It's like when criminals are told they must pay back stolen money, what would happen if they said "well I so would normally, but this time there's just too much of it, stored in too many places I can't keep track."

      1. quxinot

        Re: What a spectacularly questionable argument..

        >It's like when criminals are told they must pay back stolen money, what would happen if they said "well I so would normally, but this time there's just too much of it, stored in too many places I can't keep track."<

        Happens all the time, they're called CEO's. Your point being?

    3. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: What a spectacularly questionable argument..

      Where have you been? The police do whatever it is that's unacceptable, The Home Office sits on it for years, then either the Home Office argues it's accepted practice or the government retroactively changes the law.

  4. DNTP
    FAIL

    LEO Logic:

    Here in America, cops who want you to consent to a search will argue that refusal to consent to a search is suspicious enough to be grounds for a forcible search. So obviously, asking to get your picture removed should be a clear sign to law enforcement that you're going to be committing crimes in the near future, and thus they need to keep your pictures on file.

    Remember, you wouldn't have had a mug shot taken if you weren't guilty of something, and the innocent have nothing to hide.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: LEO Logic:

      Remember, you wouldn't have had a mug shot taken if you weren't guilty of something

      Ah, that explains why cops get photographed and fingerprinted when they join. Thanks for clearing that up :).

      1. Snorlax
        FAIL

        Re: LEO Logic:

        "Ah, that explains why cops get photographed and fingerprinted when they join. Thanks for clearing that up :)."

        And I had to get my photo taken for my driver's license, my passport, my work ID too.

        None of those things required me to be placed under arrest in order to be processed.

        So you point is what exactly? A person having his photo taken voluntarily as part of starting a job isn't the same thing as being arrested and photographed, is it?

        1. Danny 14 Silver badge

          Re: LEO Logic:

          Police routinely photograph people at rallies, festivals, protests or even voluntary lineups (cheap 15 at uni, great when you are a nondescript half cast)

  5. Snorlax

    @Alexander J Martin

    "Police forces hoarding archives of photos is even more troubling when you consider the plod's dalliances with automated facial recognition (AFR) technology. Of those 19 million custody images held in the UK, 16.6 million are held within the Police National Database’s facial recognition gallery. "

    Are these images shared with any other government bodies, such as the DHSS, DWP or whatever it's called these days?

    I ask as authorities in Ireland are calling their AFR implementation a success, having caught 'dozens' of welfare fraudsters (who between them had swindled a total of €1.6m) since 2015.

    The cost of the AFR scheme? €60m

  6. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Why not store the photos on Instagram and let the public 'like' suspected criminals. The police can then follow that up. Simples :-)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "The police can then follow that up."

      It works! A technique used by totalitarian regimes. That the people are never seen again is proof to the public that their suspicions were correct - even if their real intent in making the report was malicious.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Big Brother

        Alternatively, the police could mine the data to build a 'Snitches and Narks' DB. Always useful in setting up a police state.

      2. GrapeBunch Bronze badge

        Famous last words: I have 50 likes on Instagram.

        Giving the coppers the maximum leeway, and basing whatever I know on television, how about this compromise:

        1. Delete all (criminal records) database photos of innocents. This is, or should be, trivial to program(me). For example: loop databases, if convictions% = 0 then loop delete photos-in-this-record >> dev null, next record, next database.

        2. Allow them to keep hard copy photos in folders;

        3. Establish new procedures with sunset rules for digital photos not held in databases.

        What they proposed looks to anybody like they're 100% intent on maintaining / creating the Surveillance State, 0% on Magna Carta and its afterthoughts.

        A lot of innocents will have had their photo taken, surreptitiously, by police and not know to request that it be deleted. Five years and this is the best they could do? No wonder "laughingstock" is a word. But after you've laughed for a while, "cryingstock" should become available.

        1. David 164 Bronze badge

          Your code don't take into account that the person who may have been found "innocent" could still be part of a criminal or the criminal underworld.

          1. Swarthy Silver badge

            So without charge or, perhaps, conviction, we should hold onto the photos of "wrong 'uns"? Maybe let the ones who are innocent get thrown out. But how to tell the difference?

            I suppose you trust Constable Savage enough to be able to spot said wrong 'uns, but I am not that pronoid.

        2. staggers
          Coat

          @Grapebunch.

          Laughing stock is two words.

          Sorry.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How long before the pictures are automatically accessed by border controls outward bound to the USA? They would argue that names are too easy to change.

    IIRC even an arrest of an innocent person makes them ineligible in the future for a fast track visa to the USA.

  8. Black Rat

    and what about the other agencies who they shared images & data with?

    1. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

      Bada bing! Ten points. The focus here being on the Police Force misses the scope of the problem. Once that image has been captured, many and various govt agencies will have access. Remember that long list of agencies that can access citizens' data under RIPA? Those are the agencies they admit to.

      And then there are backups,.... how long do we think data in backups is retained? Are those backups offline tapes still? Or are we talking backups on SAN, that could be mounted and used as live data? 'Deletion' means little these days.

  9. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    See ya

    in the Gulag. I have dibs on the corner room, my fellow comrade.

    1. Danny 14 Silver badge

      Re: See ya

      Not me. Im a snitch, nothing bad ever happens to snitches right?

      1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

        Re: See ya

        Only when some snitches on the snitch. But I'll still have the corner room.

  10. Dr_N Silver badge

    No smoke without fire.

    Nothing to hide, nothing to fear.

    Think of the children.

    Terrorists!

  11. cantankerous swineherd

    the filth are above the law.

  12. twilkins

    Sovereignty feels good, doesn't it?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, just another power grab

      By BRITISH authorities in the war on civil liberties.

      Tell us something we don't know.

    2. codejunky Silver badge

      @ twilkins

      Isnt this where your supposed to say we are still in the EU?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @ codejunky

        Wots one of them curly things you stick in words

        Your, you're, yore or yaw - please select one at random.

        1. codejunky Silver badge

          Re: @ codejunky

          Ok - "or"

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Mushroom

    Simple explanation...

    "Do as we say, not as we do".

    You should try this as a private organization, then law enforcement will be all over you and all too ready to collect thousands worth of fines and "damages". And some people still keep wondering why the respect for politicians and the justice department is often dropping like a brick these days.

  14. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    FAIL

    once again The Home Office shows it's completely out of control.

    They've either turned a blind eye or actively supported

    CCTV with ANPR

    DNA retention

    Unlimited facial storage in a system designed for facial recognition.

    With no expiry date.

    Even splitting it into DoJ and HO did not put a leash on them.

    1. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: once again The Home Office shows it's completely out of control.

      Actively support. Fund. Encourage.

      ...and hang the Police out to dry in the press if, for example, one of these people goes on to commit a publicity grabbing crime.

  15. James Ashton
    Big Brother

    Nobody Mention Backups

    Surely this monster database is backed up to tape offsite securely, essentially forever. Explain to me how they can delete selected images from those backups. Thought not.

    1. GrapeBunch Bronze badge

      Re: Nobody Mention Backups

      The obvious solution is that backups not be kept forever. Let's say backups are labelled M, T, W, H, F and if the change is made on F1 then in a week the offending photos will be flushed out.

      I'd also say that having the photos of innocents on tape, out of sight and therefore out of mind, is a huge advance on meddling (or pressured) cops looking in the criminal records databases for excuses to bust somebody, anybody.

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Nobody Mention Backups

      Well, given what I regulary read here on El Reg about the way IT is handled by the bobbies, that's probably the least of your worries. What are the odds that proper* backups even exist?

      * You know... two is one, and one is none... actually be able to restore from backup... DR plans that exist and actually work... etc... etc...

    3. 's water music Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Nobody Mention Backups

      Explain to me how they can delete selected images from those backups. Thought not.

      Public sector IT(or indeed much private sector)? What are the chances that

      backups are being taken at all?

      backups are being taken successfully?

      successful restores are possible?

      On a more serious note, presumably deletion of the index could make restores impractical.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Have they actually stopped this practise now?

    How useful are all these pictures? Protested at something? Fracking? Nuclear Disarmament? Against changes to green belt land or planning permission?

    You are now a new member of the potential insurgent club and will be watched very closely/reeducated when a future government starts using its power to enable the new totalitarian regime with the powers already gained.

    Don't try to fight it because that just gets you on the list. Also be careful what you look at on the internet.

    Do I need a tin foil hat? Are these just conspiracy theory's? Am I reading this wrong?

  17. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Not even logical within its own crooked mindset

    If there is a genuine policing purpose for retaining an image of you (tagged with your name), wouldn't that purpose be better served by having an up-to-date image? So if the police *want* to retain an image, they should *still* destroy the one they've got and visit you (at your convenience, because you are entirely innocent, remember) to take a new one.

    Or if they want to save time, most of the population is available to view in a variety of realistic poses with their friends and conveniently tagged by name on social media. Indeed, this is now such an overwhelming presumption that (apparently) I wouldn't be allowed into the US these days because I wouldn't be able to hand over my social media passwords.

    You ... Couldn't ... Make ... It ... Up ... :(

  18. scrubber
    Trollface

    No word from the queen?

    Isn't her job to protect her subjects from her government? Isn't that the compact we have?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No word from the queen?

      The queen's job? Let's have a think.....the definition would be....

      Noun

      1. An animal or plant that lives in or on another (the host) from which it obtains nourishment. The host does not benefit from the association and is often harmed by it.

      2. A person who habitually lives at the expense of others; sponger.

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: No word from the queen?

      I understand her job is to lure tourists into visiting Britain, and apparently she is quite good at it. Right now, Britain is making a handsome profit off this business model; this may well change when travelling to Britain becomes less convenient.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: No word from the queen?

        What evidence is there that people come to visit the UK because of the queen? Is there any? I cant help but think that people come here for all sorts of reasons, but not because a 90 odd year old, old lady lives here. They have plenty of old ladies at home surely?

    3. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Re: No word from the queen?

      The queen's role is to protect the nation from the men who would be king. She stands between autocrats and despots and us. We have all the old-fashioned wording and ceremonies that enforce the idea that the Government works for her, that hey are her servants, and I think that is a useful, tiny reminder that they SERVE her to help US. I would like to think that she would exercise royal powers if it looks as if Parliament were taken over by, say, neo-nazis.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: No word from the queen?

        Doesn't the executive branch of government exercise her royal, appointed by god (Dei Gratia Regina, as my loose change constantly reminds me), powers for her these days? The queen does seem fairly harmless to me, but what if God appoints a complete twat to replace her? I'm not that comfy with anyone who thinks that they have a sky ghost given divine right, having any power whatsoever. It's really silly having a head of state that we have no chance of getting rid of. At least the US have the chance to correct their mistake in 4 years. We have to wait for the incumbent to die.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tit for Tat

    I understand that in Germany protest groups collect images and information on policeman to level the playing field.

    Our police are wonderful and such action in the UK is totally unnecessary. They are so wonderful that giving them more guns and tasers can only be a good thing. Some innocent people will get hurt but that is the price we must pay for freedom.

    1. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: Tit for Tat

      "collect images and information on policeman"

      Was made criminal a few years agi in England.

      "Our police are wonderful and such action in the UK is totally unnecessary. They are so wonderful that giving them more guns and tasers can only be a good thing"

      In general they are wonderful and doing a very difficult job under impossible circumstances. More guns is not a good thing, but an officer can get quite badly hurt/raped/maimed/kidnapped in the 30 minutes it takes for backup to arrive outside of the large cities. So the alternative is not enforcing the law in rural areas or spending more money on more people.

      1. MrZoolook
        FAIL

        Re: Tit for Tat

        "collect images and information on policeman"

        Was made criminal a few years agi in England.

        ----

        Evidence of this? Meanwhile, in the real world, the Mets own website categorically tells us: Members of the public and the media do not need a permit to film or photograph in public places and police have no power to stop them filming or photographing incidents or police personnel.

        http://content.met.police.uk/Site/photographyadvice

        I would assume, if a police officer saw a member of the public engaging in criminal activity, they would be bound to take steps to intervene. Since they have no power to prevent people filming them, it can be logically assumed that the filming of police officers is not in and of itself illegal.

        1. Adam 52 Silver badge

          Re: Tit for Tat

          There are two offences. s.76 Terrorism Act makes it criminal to film Police *Constables* (but not staff), intelligence officers or military personnel. Note this is not the much abused s.44, which has been repealed.

          And there's another one, more recent, that makes it criminal to intimidate a Constable by use of photography. Can't find that Act at the moment, it was probably tagged onto a Coroner's Act or somesuch.

          http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2008/28/section/76

  20. Winkypop Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Just landed in Singapore

    Thumb prints at immigration upon arrival. Disturbing.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sauce for the Goose

    Perhaps the police and the 'authorities' would take the idea of deleting photos of innocent people more seriously, when we, the public, start keeping a database of photos of the police ?

    AFAIK taking pictures in public is legal, so compling a database of photos of the police, taken in public places, would be a good first step. Once the police start to object just remind them that they and the Home Office have set the precedent.

    After all, what have they got to hide !

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sauce for the Goose

      "Once the police start to object just remind them that they and the Home Office have set the precedent."

      IIRC there have been cases of UK police officers objecting to being photographed by members of the public. Probably classed as a "potential terrorist" intention.

  22. Korev Silver badge

    Astonishingly, the Home Office stopped short of demanding the deletion of all images of innocent people no longer under investigation because, apparently, there are so many photos on file, it would be impractical to ask officers to go through all their databases and remove photographs of individuals who have never been convicted of an offence.

    This almost makes it sound like the cops have no tracking of their photos and who they think are in them! I suspect almost everyone reading this could write some SQL to query a data base, then delete the file and update the DB (or use APIs).

    1. Adam 52 Silver badge

      How you gonna SQL query pieces of paper?

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You mugs built this shit, now you're worried that coppers might use trained AI to do their jobs. Deleting photos is the least of our problems. We have millions of cameras, your phone's GPS and all your tagged social media pictures already hooked up to deep learning machines built by software engineers that thought it would be used for what? Shopping or some shit. Really. The robots are coming.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Theresa Stasi May

    A Fascist State. Welcome to the UK.

    1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Re: Theresa Stasi May

      I really think you should save this for when it really is that bad. So far we haven't even come up to the boil. Our goose is not yet cooked.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Theresa Stasi May

        "Our goose is not yet cooked."

        We are being cooked like frogs - very slowly so people don't notice until it is too late.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Got told off for:

    Taking picture of a newly fused light in (shopping_superstore) by (drone). I mean I ask you, the explanation given by me about research on retro-PK for a scientific paper went down like ninety-nine lead balloons!

    But yes, shops don't like you using cameras at all, even to the extent of politely asking you to delete said photos. Fortunately this time upon checking the picture wasn't there (wonder why?!) so even if they had queried it there would have been no evidence.

    Also got snapped by some nice folks, then the picture used without my consent in the local rag, 4 times (!) out of context on issues I had not even considered. Go free press! :-P Funny as heck.

  26. Roj Blake Silver badge

    And they wonder...

    ...why nobody trusts the police any more

  27. Velv Silver badge
    Facepalm

    How hard can it be!!!

    the Home Office stopped short of demanding the deletion of all images of innocent people no longer under investigation because, apparently, there are so many photos on file, it would be impractical to ask officers to go through all their databases and remove photographs of individuals who have never been convicted of an offence.

    Select * from "suspects" where conviction = 0

    Delete

    Simples

    1. Marcus Fil

      Re: How hard can it be!!!

      On remand awaiting trial etc., innocent until proven guilty and convictions = 0. It just maybe harder than it looks because of how the data are structured, how disjoint and 'mandrolic' so much of the process still is, and the massive lack of IT skills in a body of people who signed up to catch wrong-doers and wear a natty black costume (call them 'costumes', because it so annoys people who wear uniforms, kit, livery, vestments etc.)

      Of course we could demand that the system is improved so that the innocent do not get collectively lumped with the guilty, but that would cost money. Just wait for the 'Daily Fail' headlines about how money is being diverted from frontline policing to appease the demands of civil rights activists and anarchists.

      Meanwhile, money is magically available for the latest 'Wunderkind' Home Office project to use AI to identify the farts of potential offernders or some such. If you don't like the status quo then write to your MP, local police and crime commisioner (*giggles*), BBC Watchdog or El Reg comments pages. Remember, for the moment at least (until your conviction for conspiracy to tell the truth), that you have a vote - FFS exercise it with some consideration; checking your prospective MP has at least half a brain and some semblance of moral compass might be a start.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How hard can it be!!!

        "[...] that you have a vote - FFS exercise it with some consideration; [...]"

        Unless you are in a marginal constituency - then with First Past The Post your vote has no chance of affecting the local result. Even in a marginal constituency in England you usually end up with either Labour or Tory - the candidates often being parachuted in from Central Office.

        So you either register: a principled minority vote; a spoiled vote; no vote; grit your teeth to pick the least nasty of the big two. The latter is becoming difficult to choose on matters of privacy these days. Even David Davis seems to have lost his principles on being given a ministerial post.

  28. David 164 Bronze badge

    So it down to the local police who actually know these people to decide whether their photo should be remove or not. I'm perfectly fine with that and to me that the sensible way to handle it.

  29. This post has been deleted by a moderator

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