Cash-strapped police spend £700k on UK database

Chief Sir Stephen House 'warned of a budget shortfall. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Chief Sir Stephen House 'warned of a budget shortfall. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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CASH-strapped Police Scotland is spending more than £700,000 a year helping maintain an intelligence database that includes a controversial stockpile of mugshots.

The force has been uploading images on a daily basis to the Police National Database (PND), which has been criticised by privacy campaigners.

Now figures revealed by a parliamentary question show the force contributes £725,000 to the Home Office for the running of the database, which allows police forces across the UK to share intelligence.

Last week, Chief Constable Sir Stephen House warned “extreme measures” were needed to balance Police Scotland’s budget, with the force facing a £11 million funding gap for the coming year.

Liberal Democrat MSP Alison McInnes, who obtained information about the PND using parliamentary questions, said the database was a useful tool in fighting crime.

However, she said that questions remained about the unregulated use of biometrics.

She said: “Some of the Police National Database will be a reasonable resource, which does have its benefits.

“However, we need to make sure there are checks and balances there, when it comes to facial recognition.

“We know police forces have been uploading pictures of innocent people just because they could.

“I have concerns about the unregulated use of facial recognition, but the Police National Database does go wider than that.”

Last month, the House of Commons’ science and technology committee said it was “alarmed” that police in England and Wales had collected the mugshots of innocent and guilty people alike to use with facial recognition technology.

Its comments came after it emerged police are holding 18 million images to use with facial recognition technology.

The MPs noted a “worrying” lack of government oversight and regulation of the use of biometrics by public bodies.

It called for day-to-day independent oversight of the police use of all biometrics, and for the Biometrics Commissioner’s jurisdiction to be extended beyond DNA and fingerprints.

And in a submission to the committee, the Church of Scotland’s church and society council said it had privacy concerns about the development of biometric technology.

The UK-wide police intelligence database was set up following the Bichard inquiry into the Soham murders in 2002.

However, there are concerns over stockpiling of mugshots, which are not regulated in the same way as biometric data such as DNA and fingerprints.

A Police Scotland spokesman said: “In common with all other contributing forces and law-enforcement agencies, Police Scotland provides funding for the development, maintenance, access and use of PND, the UK-wide database set up as a recommendation of the Bichard inquiry. “It is a vital tool for helping us to keep people safe and prevent and detect crime.”

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