back to article UK's MoD is helping itself to cops' fingerprint database 'unlawfully', rules biometrics chief

The Ministry of Defence has been searching the police national fingerprint database without a “clearly defined lawful basis,” the UK's biometrics commissioner has said. In his annual report (PDF) filed today, Paul Wiles warned that inter-government searching of databases should be properly regulated. “I continue to be very …

  1. Semtex451
    Thumb Up

    Paul Wiles for PM!!!

    1. Hemmels

      I didn't know had a Biometrics Comissioner, bloody glad we do though. Because it's public office, I assume he hasn't been lobbied hard enough yet (kerching). Good luck to him.

  2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    It's no use just sitting there saying this or that was done illegally. It's also of dubious use saying it was this or that public body. If something was being done illegally there should be prosecutions of the individuals responsible. A charge of misfeasance in public office could be used if there is no specific charge available.

    1. Keven E

      "It's also of dubious use saying it was this or that public body."

      Although different law enforcement bodies have been gathering fingerprints for different databases for quite a long time, I figured it's all essentially one big one by now... somewhere... at least the national one... data a'int going down the chain and perhaps nor is access (good idea), but.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Enforcement optional

      Ah, but this is where the genius of the system comes into play. No prosecution can take place without a decision to prosecute by a public prosecutor. Who, when the alleged offence has been committed by government, will almost always find it "not in the public interest".

      That's the answer if you are ever asked "When is a law not a law?"

    3. jmch Silver badge

      "If something was being done illegally there should be prosecutions of the individuals responsible"

      But the police aren't likely to initiate THAT prosecution are they?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Not with their ethical record...

    4. Seajay#

      The thing is, he didn't say it was done illegally. The Register headline says that but all it says in the actual report is "I continue to be very concerned about the searching by the Ministry of Defence into the

      police national fingerprint database without an agreed, clearly defined lawful basis."

      I.e no one has laid out clearly what the lawful basis but that doesn't mean there isn't one. Someone just needs to do the paperwork to prove that it's lawful.

  3. JimmyPage
    Stop

    You are never going to rein this in, so a different approach is needed.

    Let them do their worst with the data. But ensure that courts only accept legally obtained and processed evidence. And if it turns out a prosecution fails because someone "forgot" the law, the so be it.

    I hate to big up the US on this, but they take "the fruit of the poison tree" very seriously.

    There's something fundamentally wrong in allowing courts to consider evidence gained illegally. It's the first step in "the end justifies the means".

    1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: You are never going to rein this in, so a different approach is needed.

      "

      Let them do their worst with the data. But ensure that courts only accept legally obtained and processed evidence.

      "

      The problem with that thinking is that all that happens is that after gaining the evidence illegally, the investigators take the knowledge gained from the illegal evidence in order to make a good pretext for obtaining either that same or different evidence legally. Or they use parallel construction to pretend that they obtained the evidence in a different way. It makes the investigators jump through an extra hoop, but does not stop anyone obtaining evidence illegally.

      1. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: You are never going to rein this in, so a different approach is needed.

        Yep. That's how it's done here in the US.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: You are never going to rein this in, so a different approach is needed.

      "Let them do their worst with the data. But ensure that courts only accept legally obtained and processed evidence."

      Does that mean that if your neighbour who happens to have access decides to check up you and your friends that's OK because it's just for private consumption and not going to go near the courts?

  4. Halfmad Silver badge

    Too late

    Governance rules should be in place before any access is given.

  5. Dan 55 Silver badge

    "The sober point is that unless there are clear and publicly accepted rules governing the police use of new biometrics then damage could be done to public trust in policing and at a time when regard for some other public institutions is declining.”

    Fingerprints aren't exactly new any more, their use by police is about a century old, it's a culture of a continual deliberate refusal to define any rules allowing a free-for-all behind the scenes that must be overturned. Good luck with that.

  6. JimmyPage
    WTF?

    damage could be done to public trust in policing ...

    What, the Guildford 4, Birmingham 6, Jean Charles de Menezes, Barry George, Colin Stagg, Harry Stanley cases didn't quite do the job ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: damage could be done to public trust in policing ...

      Indeed.

      You don't end up running the Metropolitan police by accident.

      No pun intended.

  7. Wellyboot Silver badge

    Different Rules

    >>>The MoD has been using the database to check whether fingerprints taken or found during military operations abroad matched to persons known to the UK police or immigration authorities or matched crime scene fingerprints held by the police.

    Wiles said he has repeatedly challenged the MoD as to the legal basis on which the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory has gained direct access to and is searching the police’s fingerprint collections.<<<

    If this was any internal civil organisation doing this there would be serious questions to ask about oversight but this isn't a local councillor on a dirt digging fishing trip, Its the Military (and by extension MI5/MI6, not plod) doing the looking so I think the blanket statment 'Defence of the Realm' will cover this in any UK court. I also very much expect the same fingerprints are being checked for matches in all the other EU, 5-Eye, NATO, Interpol etc. countries.

    Politicians have to be very careful about who/what/where they point their military and it's senior ministers that will have signed off these activities possibly at cabinet level.

    1. jonathan keith Silver badge

      Re: Different Rules

      Nonetheless, it might still be illegal. Hence the excellent work done on our behalf by groups such as Privacy International in shining a light on such behaviour and doggedly dragging it through the courts.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Different Rules

        So it wouldn't bother you at all that somone who's fingerprints were found on a remote detonator in connection with <insert latest 'bombing outrage'> were living safe and well availing themselves of HMG's welfare state were not identified and questioned as to why their fingerprints were found on the grounds of 'privacy' or some such 'rights'?

        Is it not right that fingerprints are taken so that blame for or innocence of (provable) criminal acts can be apportioned where possible? not to do so is a disservice to the victims IMO

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Different Rules

          That would be a police matter so if the fingerprints are on the police database they would be found by the police who are entitled to have access. It's what the system is there for.

          Sorry, you failed your straw man construction test.

        2. batfink Silver badge

          Re: Different Rules

          You've missed part of your bigotry here. Clearly in your opinion bombers are all welfare recipients, but you forgot to add "illegal immigrant".

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Different Rules

            Stop the unnecessary hate for someone who has a different opinion to you - Daily Fail readers are banned here!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Different Rules

      That reminds me of the 1985 film Defence of the Realm - excellent thriller with the great late Denholm Elliot!

      Covers many of the security service issues we're still debating today.

  8. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    WTF?

    Don't seem like they give a s**t

    And how the hell did the MoD get it's fingers up this data base?

    A 5YO could see this is nothing but a blatant fishing expedition on a database they have virtually zero reason to access.

    Got an intruder on a base. Take his dabs and pass to the PNC.

    Worried about bogus employees. As above.

    BTW for non UK readers MI5 and MI6 have nothing to do with the MoD and (AFAIK) haven't done so since WWI.

    1. Giovani Tapini
      Stop

      Re: Don't seem like they give a s**t

      err... You do realise the MoD runs its own police service don't you, these investigate regular criminal activities in many cases? And also that many military operations are more like armed policing than simply spraying bullets everywhere...

      I suggest they probably do have good grounds to access the database for at least some of these purposes. It is however likely that the law has not caught up to clearly give or deny their access either. This means the challenge is correct, but the blind assumption that they should not be using the database is a bit naive..

      1. Omgwtfbbqtime

        Re: Don't seem like they give a s**t

        You mean the MODplod?

        Slightly more militarily capable than the RAF regiment but still just perimeter guards. Expect them to be TUPEd to G4$.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is what is meant by "the rules-based order"

    The only important rule is The Golden Rule:

    "Them that has the gold makes the rules".

  10. NonSSL-Login
    Coat

    How many organisations and partners have the police allowed to copy the full database than just search it?

    Considering DNA and fingerprints are supposed to be deleted after such in many circumstance, which probably isnt happening, I wonder who has backups of the full data. Without doubt someone is hoarding them under the .national security' banner. Who are they sharing the data with?

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