back to article UK Home Office grilled over biometrics, being clingy with folks' mugshots

Brit Home Office bods have denied that retaining millions of custody images of people who were never charged falls foul of case law, while asserting that automatic deletion is not technically possible. In an intense evidence session with MPs this morning, Home Office minister Susan Williams and the department's director of …

  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "Home Office bods have denied that retaining millions of custody images of people who were never charged falls foul of case law, while asserting that automatic deletion is not technically possible."

    No problem. Just delete the lot. If they can't do it whilst keeping within the law they shouldn't do it at all.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Don't be silly. Like taxes, the law only applies to the little people.

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Broken by design...?

    3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Gimp

      ""I suppose it's because the government runs the criminal justice system.""

      But you can bet Facebook would like to do some of that as well.

      As others have noted their should be some flga that says "yes, he/she is an active case" or "no, nothing else is happening."

      Unless of course the ambiguity is deliberate.

    4. veti Silver badge

      How about, make deletion part of the discharge process when you get let out of your cell? How hard can that be?

      (Actually, I'm hoping the answer is "pretty hard". Adding a significant administrative overhead to locking people up without good reason is a feature, not a bug.)

  2. }{amis}{ Silver badge
    Flame

    This is B@*&£$%!

    I would bet my next pay check that all of this data is stored in some flavor of SQL db.

    So their is no way one of the admins cant write a simple query to nuke any record without a arrest flag after x no days.

    And if in the remote chance that their systems are such a shattered mess that such a query cant be run because the data is not their then hard questions need to be asked!

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. veti Silver badge

      Re: This is B@*&£$%!

      Of course the suspect has been arrested. It's being charged that's the missing step.

      I can well believe that there isn't a "charged" flag in that particular database, so a simple SQL query probably isn't going to cut it.

      (You may reply "well, that's crap design then", and I wouldn't deny it. I'd take "crap design" as a given, in any significant data structure that's grown up over a period of time. But that's not the same as proposing a roadmap for how to improve it, let alone finding the budget to do it.)

      1. Terje

        Re: This is B@*&£$%!

        Maybe a simple sql query won't solve a case like that if we assume the data for convicted / under investigation etc. cases are held in an entirely different db, but just do a select query on that database once a month to select out the persons that should be retained drop into a file of you choice, send file in whatever manner you please to the second database, parse said file and drop all records that don't match, it would probably be all of what? A days work in real life, add in governments and contractors and you get a year, ok let's be realistic here, we are talking government and big contractors after all so say three years, but there have still been more then enough time to do that.

    3. DNTP

      Re: This is B@*&£$%!

      No one here is stupid enough to bet against you here, or so I'll wager my next paycheck.

      I mean they have millions of images on file- in some kind of database, classified, tagged, and computer-searchable. Not just shoved into a directory on a Windows desktop. But next I expect to hear from these liars "These files are flagged 'read only' and none of us know how to handle that!"

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is B@*&£$%!

      You lose.

      Most of the facial and fingerprint systems do not use SQL to store the data. They use proprietry techniques to store the data and scale the searches out vertically and horizontally. This means one rack (yes thats the sort of scale) will search one part of the database whilst another rack will search a different part.

      I had the joy of testing a range of fingerprint and facial vendors at serious scale some years ago and we basically stuffed as many CPU's as possible into as small a space as possible to see how they all performed. We then discovered serious hotspots in the middle of the racks as we got the cooling wrong. Quite fun to see thermal shutdown across a rack of servers :) From memory we had something like 40 1U servers each rack with 8 CPU's, each with 4 cores and three of four racks. So thats something like 3,000 cores. This was considered entry level. I seem to think we almost scraped into the top 1000 super computers for the time as well. None of them used SQL for facial or fingerprint matching.

      Anyway, you owe me a months salary. Can you provide an email address for me to contact you as my mortgage is due shortly and I fancy somebody else paying it.

      Many thanks

      1. Terje

        Re: This is B@*&£$%!

        So what you are saying is that there are racks upon racks worth of hardware containing data that can't be connected to an individual in any way?

        If you have a system that can't retrieve that I would say the best solution to the problem involves a couple of jerry cans and a match.

        If the system run sql or some other more esoteric solution is rather besides the point, if you can't even enumerate what you have in the system it's broken beyond repair.

      2. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

        Re: This is B@*&£$%!

        ....Can you provide an email address for me to contact you as my mortgage is due shortly and I fancy somebody else paying it...

        http://127.0.0.1

  3. James 51 Silver badge
    FAIL

    I am not handing over vast amounts of info to private companies and I go out of my way to avoid handing that info over. Of course what my friends post on line is probably still enough to profile and track me but that's something I have little control over. Still not an excuse for doing wrong though. All the cool boys were smoking behind the bike shed so I thought I'd join them. Why am I the one getting detention?

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      You can run but you can't hide!

      You are James Phillip Masterson, aged 57, of 17, The Laurels, Purley. You were born in East Croydon Maternity Hospital on 8th June 1961, to Robert and Judith Masterson (née Williams). You are currently employed by V S Donovan and Sons as a network administrator. You voted for Alice Goore-Blimey (Lib-Dem) in the last local elections, and to Remain in the Referendum. You are 5'9". You don't like celery and lobster brings you out in a rash.

      How am I doing so far...?

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
        Joke

        @Pen-y-gors

        Usually relatives of the accused are not allowed to take part in such competitions :P

      2. wolfetone Silver badge

        I'm 6ft 4.

  4. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    "Computer says no..."

    I get pissed off with ignorant politicians who claim that something isn't technically possible, when it clearly is.

    One simple process that draws data from the custody image system and the charges/convictions database, and matches them up before issuing a deletions report and Robert is your mother's brother.

    Of course, if there is no identifying data that is common to the two systems so they really can't be matched, then it's all a bit silly, and they need to just delete all the images after six months regardless, as they will presumably have new images of convicted felons taken when they are booked in to Parkhurst.

    Either way, the Government approach to pissing billions up the wall on failed IT means they can surely afford £100 million to write a quick data matching prog?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Computer says no..."

      This is politics, they also claim things are technically possible when they aren't.

      Politicians are a sub-species of human that never give a straight answer and show lack of understanding when it suits their ambitions. They also eat their young and worship Satan.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: "Computer says no..."

        worship Satan

        Although to his eternal embarrassment

        1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

          Re: "Computer says no..."

          Of course, if there is no identifying data that is common to the two systems so they really can't be matched, then it's all a bit silly

          I think you meant to say 'then it's all bit pointless'.

    2. IamStillIan

      Re: "Computer says no..."

      What you've overlooked is that they've deliberately not assigned any ids or dependable reference data to anything, in order to make sure nothing like this could be forced up on them.

    3. Teiwaz Silver badge

      Re: "Computer says no..."

      I get pissed off with ignorant politicians who claim that something isn't technically possible, when it clearly is.

      Don't forget the added perversity of demanding things that aren't mathematically possible are done because they wish it.

      Hmm, maybe that's why they keep on at it. If they're mantra is 'not possible' when they don't want to do something, they possibly think the IT people are using the same excuse for the same reason.

  5. m0rt Silver badge

    "But, she argued, "there is quite an interesting juxtaposition here, where members of the public will give the most incredible amount of data to a faceless internet company but are suspicious of what government might be doing"."

    Annnnnnd this is interesting why? The private companies are subject to laws that exist and get prosecuted accordingly. In theory at any rate.

    But it seems here, Ms Susan Williams, that even though the current rentention has been ruled unlawful, the government still decides to .... well carry on as normal. Outside the rule of law, it may well be said. You see the problem? Well stupid question. Of course you don't or this hearing wouldn't be taking place.

    So fuck you.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      There is indeed an interesting juxtaposition

      But only if you forget the one big difference : people give their personal details to social media sites, the government takes that information without consent (unless you think they ask you to please stay for your mugshot) and does not give it up even when confronted with express demands in that sense.

      For all their faults, social media are becoming experts in generating sympathy, something the government is totally clueless about.

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Don't forget the supermarket loyalty cards which everybody apparently has too. You know, those things which were once compared to ID cards and ID cards were found to be even cuddlier and more harmless.

      1. James 51 Silver badge

        I don't have a single loyalty card, the scowl I have developed saying no to that question is usually warning enough to not be asked if I want one.

  6. Rich 11 Silver badge

    Fuckwit politicians!

    while asserting that automatic deletion is not technically possible.

    If safely backdooring encryption is technically possible then arranging for the automatic deletion of a set of non-criminal records is a fucking walk in the park.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I trust El Reg will be ringing the Home Office every day in June to ask for the policy document, and submitting an FOI request if it has not appeared by July.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Automatic deletion

    Maybe the US can loan them one of their voting machines to store the biometric data in.

  9. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    Clueless woman

    "there is quite an interesting juxtaposition here, where members of the public will give the most incredible amount of data to a faceless internet company but are suspicious of what government might be doing".

    A faceless Internet company cannot lock me up for over a year without trial, or confiscate all my assets on the basis that I cannot prove conclusively that I obtained them legitimately, or smash down my door at 2AM and traumatise my children because I rented a house that was occupied by a cannabis grower 2 years ago and it is "technically impossible" for the police to delete my address from their database.

    There are absolutely ZERO advantages to me in allowing the police to have records on me, but a heck of a lot of disadvantages. If she is too stupid to work that out, she should be placed into a suitable institution for the safety of herself and others.

  10. unwarranted triumphalism

    Only criminals have any cause to oppose this sort of data retention.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Would you still say that if UKIP got into power?

    2. veti Silver badge

      /s /criminals /residents

      We're talking about the pollution of law enforcement databases with spurious data. It's the criminals who benefit from this practice, which the Home Office is apparently defending out of sheer inertia ("it'd be too much work to change it").

  11. Stephen Wilkinson

    Won't this fall foul of GDPR?

  12. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Flame

    Once again, the UK has it's cake *and* eats it.

    If the police can't delete the relevant images, then their use as evidence should be struck out.

    What's that you say ? UK courts are happy to allow illegally obtained evidence ?

    Say it ain't so !?

    Oh, it is.

    You're fscked.

    "The fruit of the poison tree" is an Americanis I would welcome.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Once again, the UK has it's cake *and* eats it.

      "The fruit of the poison tree" is an Americanis I would welcome.

      Actually, that's a really tough call. Do you really want people "getting off" because of some minor technicality in procedure? Or do we continue to accept that in some cases, evidence may have been illegally obtained?

      1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

        Re: Once again, the UK has it's cake *and* eats it.

        ...Actually, that's a really tough call. Do you really want people "getting off" because of some minor technicality in procedure? ...

        Actually, yes.

        Those procedures are there for YOUR protection against the power of the state. To do this a line needs to be drawn, and for your safety it's better to draw it high rather than low...

  13. adam payne Silver badge

    The committee chair, Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb, argued that the government had effectively admitted that such images should only be kept under exceptional circumstances

    Isn't everything exceptional?

    "I think that the 2012 ruling said that what we were doing was lawful, but... because there is no sort of automatic – within the technology, there's no automatic deletion mechanism... and it's something that obviously, in due course..." she said, trailing off.

    The 2012 ruling says it's unlawful and you know this, there's no think about it.

    In all this time you still haven't done anything to address the issue, so when will you be implementing auto delete?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not just the images . . .

    I'd also want them to remove and biometric mapping/ mathematical models they have about me.

    "yes, we have complied and removed your image from our system" (. . . . . but we still have your biometric data that we will use anyway $maniacalLaugh.)

    </tinFoilHat>

  15. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

    Contempt

    Where are the charges for contempt of court?

    Retaining images of the uncharged was ruled illegal back in 2012. Someone should have been hauled into court over the fact it is still happening.

    Ruling it illegal is pointless if nothing is then done with that ruling.

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