NI: PSNI agrees to publish policy on biometric data retention in court case settlement

NI: PSNI agrees to publish policy on biometric data retention in court case settlement

Les Allamby

The PSNI will publish a formal public policy on its retention of biometric data after settling a case brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC).

The NIHRC issued judicial review proceedings against the PSNI in December 2017 on behalf of an individual who wanted them to erase fingerprints and DNA retained after the individual was arrested in 2009.

The individual was arrested on suspicion of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, but the police subsequently accepted that they had simply intervened in a neighbourhood dispute to keep the peace, and no charges or prosecution were brought.

The PSNI refused to destroy the individual’s data on the basis of their previous 1992 conviction for common assault.

The NIHRC argued that the decision to retain the data, and the process by which it was retained, breached the individual’s right to private and family life under article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights because of the lack of 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 new PSNI policy, to be published within the next 12 months, will take into account human rights and will provide guidance to the public on how they can find out if their DNA or fingerprints have been retained, why this is so, and to challenge the decision if necessary.

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 continues to be a central tenet of how policing is delivered.”

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