February 02, 2023Counter-Terrorism Northern Ireland Article 8 Tech International Security and Rule of Law Accountability and Access to Justice
Today, Baroness Smith of Newnham supported RSI’s concerns about the legality of the use of people's biometric data, in the House of Lords Committee Stage debates on the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.
RSI is concerned that clause 31 of the Bill – entitled ‘biometric material’ – in fact does very little to regulate the collection, retention or use of such data, potentially including DNA and fingerprint samples, as part of the proposed Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery’s (ICRIR) functions.
Instead, clause 31 would grant the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland sweeping powers to create secondary legislation on this topic, with the only two restrictions being to ensure that there are ‘periodic reviews’ of the necessity of the data retention, and that material is destroyed a ‘reasonable period’ after the termination of ICRIR’s functions. ‘Reasonable period’ is not defined.
Any regulations passed pursuant to clause 31 would only be scrutinized under the ‘negative procedure’, which means that regulations become binding unless rejected by Parliament. RSI believes this level of scrutiny is inadequate, due to the highly sensitive nature of people’s biometric information, the broad powers granted by clause 31 and the potential for resulting human rights violations.
Baroness Smith of Newnham stated:
‘I am grateful to Rights and Security International for a briefing on this matter where it raises concerns about individuals’ rights under the Human Rights Act and the ECHR. In particular, apart from moving from negative to affirmative assent, I would be grateful if the Minister could consider specifying an upper limit on the retention of data. At the moment, the legislation simply talks about a “reasonable” amount of time. That seems fairly non-specific. Can the Minister clarify to the Committee what is really intended by this clause and whether it might be possible to bring forward a government amendment to ensure that people’s right are not unduly affected by sweeping powers to retain data? Can he also clarify that there is no intention for data collected to be circulated more widely than for very specific purposes? At the moment, that is not clear in the clause.’ (at cols. 635-636)
For more information, see the record of the House of Lords debate here, and RSI’s briefing here.
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