Police mugshot deletion scheme criticised for lack of transparency

BBC News
Getty Images People who have been released without charge, or later cleared of a crime, can apply to have their mugshots deleted from the Police National Database

Thousands of innocent people who have been questioned by police may not know they can have their mugshots deleted, a Commons report has warned.

A Home Office review in February 2017 said people should have the right to apply for images to be deleted.

Only 67 applied for their images to be deleted from the Police National Database of 21 million mugshots.

The Science and Technology Committee has questioned the legality of the "deletion on application" scheme.

It is suspected hundreds of thousands of people who were released without charge by police or later cleared have had their images retained.

Currently 12.5 million images on the Police National Database can be searched using facial recognition software.

Committee chairman and Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb has called for ministers to set out the legal basis for the current system, where an individual has to apply to the police force to have their image deleted.

He said: "Large scale retention of the facial images of innocent people amounts to a significant infringement of people's liberty without any national framework in place and without a public debate about the case for it."

In February 2018 the ex-minister said the current system amounted "to an unlawful policy".

The committee's report quotes figures obtained by the Press Association, which show that between February and October 2017 that across England and Wales, 37 out of 43 police forced received 67 requests for the deletion of images.

Thirty-four requests were deleted, 14 applications were refused and, as of October 2017, 19 cases are ongoing.

Under the current scheme there is a "general presumption" that custody images will be removed on request, unless there is an "exceptional reason" for keeping it.

The report added: "Large scale retention of the facial images of innocent people amounts to a significant infringement of people's liberty without any national framework in place and without a public debate about the case for it."

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "We expect the new police IT systems that we are putting in place will be able to automatically delete custody images by linking them to conviction status, as is the case with fingerprints and DNA."

"The storing of custody images helps police solve crime but it must be done in a way that is legal, ethical and transparent."

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