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TerrorismU.K. to destroy biometric information of 45 terror suspects due to botched paperwork

Published 11 March 2016

British security agencies will have to destroy fingerprints and DNA of forty-five terror suspects because the police retained the biometric samples longer than the law allows. The law does allow the police to keep biometric information of terrorism suspects indefinitely, but certain paperwork must be completed within a certain period of time to allow that, and if the paperwork is not completed, the samples must be destroyed. A new report reveals that Britain holds biometric information and materials on nearly 8,000 suspects.

British security agencies will have to destroy fingerprints and DNA of forty-five terror suspects because the police retained the biometric samples longer than the law allows.

New figures show that the U.K. counterterrorism database holds the biometric details of nearly 8,000 individuals.

The law does allow the police to keep biometric information of terrorism suspects indefinitely, but certain paperwork must be completed within a certain period of time to allow that, and if the paperwork is not completed, the samples must be destroyed.

The Telegraph reports that the administrative error means that vital forensic evidence will be lost.

A new report by Alastair MacGregor QC, Commissioner for the Retention and Use of Biometric Material, revealed for the first time that the number of terror suspects whose biometric information is now being held in Britain has reached 7,800. The number is higher than what has previously been reported.

Infirmed sources told the Telegraph that the biometric information that must be destroyed is of suspects who have been arrested by police but never charged.

The law mandates that biometric material from suspects who were not charged must be destroyed or deleted within six months of being collected. The police can request that the biometric materials be held indefinitely if they apply for a “national security declaration,” or NSD.

MacGregor said police had told him “urgent steps” were now being taken to “procure the speedy deletion” of biometrics that had remained on the counterterrorism databases beyond their lawful retention date.

“I understand that by October 31 2015 handling and other delays had led to a situation in which the statutory retention periods in respect of the biometric records of at least some 450 individuals had expired before NSDs could be or had been made in relation to them,” said MacGregor in his annual report.

“Although it seems unlikely that NSDs would have been applied for and made in relation to more than a small proportion of those records, I also understand that in about 10 percent of those cases it is possible that NSDs would have been applied for.

“Indeed, in at least three of those cases such applications had in fact been made and approved.”

MacGregor’s report also revealed that the U.K. national counterterrorism databases hold material on 7,800 suspects, up from 6,500 two years ago.

About 55 percent of the latest total, or 4,350 individuals, have never been convicted of a recordable offense.

— Read more in Biometrics Commissioner: annual report 2014 to 2015 (Gov.uk, 11 March 2016)