UK: FBI wants instant access to British identity data

Publisher Name: 
The Guardian (UK)

Senior
British police officials are talking to the FBI about an international
database to hunt for major criminals and terrorists.

The US-initiated
programme, "Server in the Sky", would take cooperation between the
police forces way beyond the current faxing of fingerprints across the
Atlantic. Allies in the "war against terror" - the US, UK, Australia,
Canada and New Zealand - have formed a working group, the International
Information Consortium, to plan their strategy.

Biometric measurements, irises or palm prints as well as fingerprints,
and other personal information are likely to be exchanged across the
network. One section will feature the world's most wanted suspects. The
database could hold details of millions of criminals and suspects.

The
FBI is keen for the police forces of American allies to sign up to
improve international security. The Home Office yesterday confirmed it
was aware of Server in the Sky, as did the Metropolitan police.

The
plan will make groups anxious to safeguard personal privacy question
how much access to UK databases is granted to foreign law enforcement
agencies. There will also be concern over security, particularly after
embarrassing data losses within the UK, and accuracy: in one case, an
arrest for a terror offence by US investigators used what turned out to
be misidentified fingerprint matches.

Britain's National Policing
Improvement Agency has been the lead body for the FBI project because
it is responsible for IDENT1, the UK database holding 7m sets of
fingerprints and other biometric details used by police forces to
search for matches from scenes of crimes. Many of the prints are either
from a person with no criminal record, or have yet to be matched to a
named individual.

IDENT1 was built by the computer technology arm
of the US defence company Northrop Grumman. In future it is expected to
hold palm prints, facial images and video sequences. A company
spokeswoman confirmed that Northrop Grumman had spoken to the FBI about
Server in the Sky. "It can run independently but if existing systems
are connected up to it then the intelligence agencies would have to
approve," she said.

The FBI told the Guardian: "Server in the Sky
is an FBI initiative designed to foster the advanced search and
exchange of biometric information on a global scale. While it is
currently in the concept and design stages, once complete it will
provide a technical forum for member nations to submit biometric search
requests to other nations. It will maintain a core holding of the
world's 'worst of the worst' individuals. Any identifications of these
people will be sent as a priority message to the requesting nation."

In
London, the NPIA confirmed it was aware of Server in the Sky but said
it was "too early to comment on what our active participation might be".

The
FBI is proposing to establish three categories of suspects in the
shared system: "internationally recognised terrorists and felons",
those who are "major felons and suspected terrorists", and finally
those who the subjects of terrorist investigations or criminals with
international links. Tom Bush, assistant director at the FBI's criminal
justice information service, has said he hopes to see a pilot project
for the programme up and running by the middle of the year.

Although
each participating country would manage and secure its own data, the
sharing of personal data between countries is becoming an increasingly
controversial area of police practice. There is political concern at
Westminster about the public transparency of such cooperation.

A
similar proposal has emerged from the EU for closer security
cooperation between the security services and police forces of member
states, including allowing countries to search each other's databases.
Under what is known as the Prum treaty, there are plans to open up
access to DNA profiles, fingerprints and vehicle registration numbers.

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