UK police lawfully keep millions of innocent people's mugshots on-file

News by Roi Perez

A 2012-commissioned review of the storage of some 19 million photographs of ex-suspects found to be innocent says the Police only need delete them at the request of the subject.

A review conducted by the Home Office has ruled that London's Metropolitan Police is allowed to keep 19 million images of ex-suspects it has kept on file.

The review titled “Use and Retention of Custody Images”, asks that, “records which no longer have a policing purpose should be archived for long-term retention outside the operational environment, if this is required by law.”

The review makes no mention of deletion of photographs, unless requested by the subject of the photograph itself, and also affords the police force powers to decline the request of deletion.

The reason given by the report is that: “This approach balances the need to use information, data and intelligence to protect the public, against the Article 8 rights of individuals. It also takes account of the high estimated cost to the taxpayer of a full manual deletion exercise in respect of all custody images currently held.”

If you have actually been convicted of a crime, or released from prison more than six years ago, you can ask the police to delete your photographs. However as mentioned, they can still decline to fulfil your request.

“Following consultation with key partners, the principal recommendation is to allow ‘unconvicted persons' to apply for deletion of their custody image, with a presumption that this will be deleted unless retention is necessary for a policing purpose and there is an exceptional reason to retain it,” said Home Secretary Amber Rudd on publication of the review.

This saga kicked off in 2012, in the case of R (RMC and FJ) v MPS, when the High Court in London ruled the keeping of images unlawful in the case of presumed innocent people. The case proved detectives were saving images of suspects they interrogated, but never convicted, just in case they might need them in the future.

The High Court essentially recognised that photographs of individuals taken into custody were useful to officers: for example, if frontline police are later able to recognise known suspects and people out on bail.

The review sought to set in place rules for police forces maintaining libraries of photos following that High Court showdown. This is because unlike the regulations on the storage of DNA evidence and fingerprints, there are little or no controls on the storage of photographs.

Once this ruling had been passed, the court called for a review on police retaining the images. Lord Justice Richards said: “It should be clear in the circumstances that a ‘reasonable further period' for revising the policy is to be measured in months, not years.” Five years later and the UK government has officially given guidance to police forces in the UK.

A potential implication of this ruling for businesses is that images of people now explicitly count as personal data and will presumably be covered by the forthcoming EU GDPR.

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