The Biometrics Commissioner yesterday published a follow up to his annual report, it can be read here.
In summary it revealed a litany of extremely serious errors in the retention and deletion of DNA profiles by the Metropolitan Police and forensic services organisations tasked with holding the data; including a series of profound failings of management, IT systems, communication between departments as well as oversight and transparency.
At one end of the scale, thousands of DNA samples were being kept for longer than they should have been and searched without the appropriate national security approval. At the other end thousands more samples were being wrongly deleted. Not only that but the number of samples being retained was far larger than the Commissioner had originally publicised in his previous report.
This might not have been the terrible problem it became had managers responded to the Commissioner’s requests for data, rather than ignoring them and allowing the problem to get increasingly out of hand. Had management been on top of things, these problems could have and indeed should have come to light sooner and solutions been determined quickly.
The Commissioner points out that only now is a ‘Deletions Policy/Procedure’ being developed. The slow pace of change is particularly troubling given that staff have been forced to resort to using spreadsheets to store information rather than the outdated system they were originally using. It is staggering to think that although “further steps are planned” they should have been taken in advance of 2012 when the Protection of Freedoms Act was enacted and these processes became law.
Despite the Commissioner claiming he is now “broadly satisfied” with the improvements there have today been calls for an urgent investigation to be undertaken into how these serious errors could have occurred.
An investigation would be welcome to ensure that whatever improvements the relevant departments are claiming are in place really are, that the temporary solutions are just temporary and most importantly of all that the oversight of these measures remains in place in light of the imminent change of Biometrics Commissioner.
This incident underlines the real and urgent need for the Home Office to publish its now long delayed Biometrics Strategy. The only thing that will resolve the range of grey areas and mistakes is real leadership.