PSNI to publish biometric data retention policy following Human Rights case

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) says it “looks forward to working with the Human Rights Commission” after settling a case on DNA retention.  

Jan 10, 2019
By Serena Lander

In 2017, The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) issued judicial review proceedings against the PSNI policy on the retention of biometric data on behalf of an individual whose fingerprints were refused to be deleted.  

The NIHRC challenged the PSNI on the grounds that the force lacked “a clear and accessible policy as to how to find out whether such material is held and if so how to challenge decisions to retain such material”.  

The case was settled between the two bodies yesterday (January 9) following almost a year of settlement discussions.  

In October 2018, the NIHRC agreed to withdraw judicial review proceedings after the PSNI said it would produce a formal policy document on biometric data retention within 12 months of the date of final order.  

The force also agreed to delete the individual’s fingerprints and DNA material.  

T/Assistant Chief Constable Tim Mairs said: “This case presented a unique set of circumstances and I would stress that the retention of biometric data in this instance was in accordance with the relevant legal provisions. However, on consideration, we felt it was appropriate to delete the biometric data.” 

He also explained that “The Criminal Justice Act (NI) was passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2013 and set out a regime for the management, retention and deletion of biometrics in Northern Ireland by the PSNI and other investigating agencies”. 

However, due to the absence of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, the “legislation was not commenced by the Justice Minister at this time and so the implementation of the solution was delayed”. 

Consequently, the PSNI intends to commence voluntary compliance with the Criminal Justice Act (NI) 2013 from November. 

NIHRC Chief Commissioner Les Allamby said: “The Commission supported this case because finding out if your DNA or fingerprints are retained by the police and the reasons why is, in our view, unnecessarily difficult. 

“The Commission acknowledges the importance of retaining DNA or fingerprints to assist with tackling crime. However, the police must strike a proportionate balance when holding on to this sensitive personal material, having fully considered the individual’s right to respect for private life. 

“The Commission is pleased that in response to this case the PSNI will now develop a clear policy addressing biometric data retention in Northern Ireland. It will make clearer to the public why their DNA or fingerprints may be retained, on what basis this may continue, and how to go about seeking its destruction. We are encouraging a quick implementation of this settlement to ensure that human rights continue to be a central tenet of how policing is delivered.” 

Mr Mairs added: “PSNI have had procedure in place since 2009 where members of the public can apply to have biometric data deleted and we look forward to working with the Human Rights Commission in producing a formal public policy on the retention of biometric data in the forthcoming year. 

“We are committed to working with the Human Rights Commission to ensure we operate to the highest of standards in a manner that safeguards human rights, but also allows for law enforcement agencies to balance this with the detection and prevention of crime.” 


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