UK Police Flagging Uncharged Arrestees As Possible National Security Threats To Keep Their Biometric Data From Being Deleted

from the fun-times-ahead! dept

Rules are rules, except when they aren’t. UK law enforcement’s biometric database has strict rules governing the retention of data not linked to suspects facing charges. The system automatically deletes the data when a file is flagged as closed, which happens automatically when a person is released without bail. At this point, “problems” develop, as The Register’s Alexander J. Martin explains.

Police employees have been hacking the Police National Computer to unlawfully retain suspects’ biometric data, it has emerged.

The manipulation of the national IT system has come in response to public demands to restrict the length of pre-charge bail, the Biometrics Commissioner has suggested.

In his 122-page annual report (PDF), the commissioner noted that it had become “not uncommon” for the police to release suspects in ongoing investigations without officially placing them on bail, as the forces “clearly feel under pressure” to meet the Home Office’s guidance to bring charges within 28 days of an initial arrest.

Speedy trials are a good thing, but the UK’s legal system apparently can’t handle cases this quickly. So, files are being closed and data erased (as it should be) after suspects are released. The “problem” is that UK law enforcement officers want to retain this data because their investigations are still open.

The automated system is doing all it can to ensure the database isn’t loaded with non-hit data on released arrestees. The system is also working to ensure people aren’t being held indefinitely without bail before being arraigned. The Biometric Commissioner feels this is somehow a bad thing.

Over the past few months I have become aware of a number of cases where biometric material has been lost – or at risk of loss – as result of this problem and I have little doubt but that there have been numerous other cases in which, by this route, unnecessary (and probably unnoticed) deletions have been triggered unwittingly by forces.

The solution would appear to be find something to charge suspects with or work with legislators and oversight to alter retention deadlines. But some officers feel justice is best served by bending the rules — ensuring neither a speedy trial nor the timely deletion of biometric data. They’re working around the system by using the greatest exception to all the rules any government has ever known.

In some cases, forces have allowed “the custody record automatically to update the PNC (Police National Computer) with an NFA (No Further Action) disposal but then immediately add a ‘Biometrics Commissioner’ or other ‘marker’ to the PNC record to ensure that the biometrics are retained.”

The “Biometrics Commissioner” marker, also known as a UZ marker, informs the PNC not to delete the data held as it may be being referred to the commissioner, for purposes such as getting a National Security Determination to extend the length of time that the data may be held.

As Martin notes in a related post, there are 7,800 “suspects” of dubious provenance in the national anti-terrorism biometric database, some of which undoubtedly found their way there by law enforcement’s deletion-circumvention trick. So, suspects of petty crimes deemed not important enough to charge or hold with bail are now being flagged and rerouted to a national security database. How long before that ends up going horribly wrong?

Law enforcement officers — like people everywhere — are more inclined to believe data a computer hands them than statements by other human beings, because computers are “impartial.” But computers obviously aren’t “impartial,” not if there’s a law enforcement officer placing the finger on the scales for no other reason than artificially extending a data retention period.

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Comments on “UK Police Flagging Uncharged Arrestees As Possible National Security Threats To Keep Their Biometric Data From Being Deleted”

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Anonymous Coward says:

the UK is getting worse! people are thought of even less now than ever and it seems to me that these changes are since the Tory party got to be government on it’s own. previously, it had the Lib Dems to rein it back when needed. with that gone, the UK is being turned into an almost Nazi type of country

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re:

The word you’re looking for is “mercantilist.” At its absolute worst, their addiction to Laissez-faire economic principles will cause them to create conditions that exacerbate the effects of natural disasters on the populace, then blithely announce that the market will take care of it. While they were doing it to “the foreigners” nobody gave a rat’s.

Now they’re doing it here where they live. The only reason they’re not getting the same treatment Thatcher did before she was forced out of office is because they’ve managed to convince most of the people I know (which probably means most of the people) that raising the minimum wage makes everybody else worse off, so the poorest workers need to try to manage better on starvation wages, dwindling tax credits, and food banks.

Sooner or later even the most dense of us will realise that austerity does NOT make things better for the rest of us, and that day can’t come soon enough.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Which is to say, absolutely not impartial at all. But people rarely interact with computer systems at a level where they’re aware of that and even when they are they can still scream at their monitors that they’re taking too long to open the damn file! I swear, it always does that when it’s least convenient!

Anonymous Coward says:

This seems like bad design

Why does the system allow, seemingly, anyone to use these flags? And either way, many of the ones that can use them are doing so in error, so maybe they shouldn’t be able to use them.
I’m also hard-pressed to find a fault in having a system that demands faster turnover on the investigations. Maybe work to have a way to let suspects go and keep the data available for the investigation? Of course the police would then just block off an area around a crime or suspect place and arrest everyone just to have their data on hand. Maybe it could turn up some juicy stuff! Fingerprint, etc. first, ask questions later.

Anon says:


Problem – people are arrested but let go because there is not enough evidence to charge them?

Answer – Maybe… don’t arrest them. If there’s not enough evidence to charge them, why are they being arrested in the first place? Isn’t that the sole reason to arrest, that there is sufficient evidence the person has committed a crime? In the “land of the Free” a person is required to identify themselves when they are stopped as the subject of a police investigation. Presumably in Her Majesty’s Socialist (non)Republic the police have these same powers. If you know who the person is, what more do you need unless you have something to test against? 28 days and a DNA test isn’t finished? Then, maybe, there’s no DNA to compare against the arrestee.

Anonymous Coward says:


“as the forces “clearly feel under pressure” to meet the Home Office’s guidance to bring charges within 28 days of an initial arrest.”

“Speedy trials are a good thing, but the UK’s legal system apparently can’t handle cases this quickly.”

Speedy? A trial in four weeks would be speedy. Four weeks to bring a CHARGE is the opposite of speedy. Come on now, if you can’t even figure out what it is that you think the guy did within 28 *hours*, you almost certainly shouldn’t have arrested him in the first place. It’s not like you have to prove everything beyond a reasonable doubt to charge someone.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Speedy?

I agree. But there’s a gotcha in that whole “speedy trial” thing. In the US, you can be held for 72 hours without a charge. The courts have decided that anything over that would begin to infringe on the “speedy trial” portion of the Constitution.

However, there’s a loophole that can be used to circumvent this if they really want to screw with you. They simply charge you with something that is bogus, then you wait in jail for your court date. Shortly before your court date, the charges get dropped. Mission accomplished.

Anonymous Coward says:

Collecting DNA

I am unaware of the UK requirements to compel surrendering of fingerprints and DNA. I would suspect that the police are using these arrests to route around those requirements. Whether its because they dont have enough to meet those requirements or are too lazy to do so. However, now they are running into the deletion of that data and again are bypassing proper procedures to retain it. If they followed proper procedures then the data would be tied to the investigation file. Instead its tied to the arrest file and as proper when not charged is deleted after a short time.

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