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Fact check: COVID-19 testing in the UK is not connected to biometric data legislation

A Facebook post with over 890 shares as of September 16 claims that COVID-19 tests in the UK are part of a conspiracy to harvest people’s biometric data. This is not true.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

The post (here) reads: “They’ve kept this one quiet.... Now you know why they want everyone tested. Did you know that as of last year, data is the most valuable thing to be sold. Ever. Even more sought after than oil. Still think this is about a virus?”

The post includes a screenshot of a new piece of legislation called “The Coronavirus (Retention of Fingerprints and DNA Profiles in the Interests of National Security) (No. 2) Regulations 2020” as it appears on the Government website that documents new legislation (tinyurl.com/y3phzcp4). The same claim, with different phrasing, has circulated elsewhere on Facebook (here) and on Twitter (here, here) .

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Owing to the ongoing impact of coronavirus, the Government has further extended the retention deadlines for biometrics data being retained by Counter Terrorism Policing for national security. The extension is supported by the Biometrics Commissioner.”

The Biometrics Commissioner, a post currently held by Professor Paul Wiles, works independently of the government. He is responsible for reviewing the use and retention of DNA samples, DNA profiles and fingerprints by the police. When UK police wish to retain an individual’s biometric data beyond an existing retention period a chief officer of police would need to make a National Security Determination (NSD). The Biometrics Commissioner is responsible for reviewing NSDs.

In March 2020, a clause was inserted into the Coronavirus Bill that allowed police to extend the statutory retention periods for biometrics that they were holding for national security purposes. At the time the Commissioner said in a statement (here “The government have introduced this measure because, due to the unprecedented pressure on policing resources caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the police are unable to follow their normal processes. In the current circumstances the police simply would not have the resources necessary to make NSDs in the normal way, which will result in biometrics that are of importance to national security being lost. Consequently, I consider it appropriate that the police be given the proposed 6-month extension to existing statutory retention periods, with a possibility of extending to 12 months should this be required.”

The Biometrics Commissioner that when the situation returned to normal, the use and consequences of this extension period would be carefully examined.

Counter-terrorism police subsequently requested a six-month extension of section 24 of the Coronavirus Act 2020. The Biometrics Commissioner also supported this extension saying in a statement: “I supported the original section 24 proposal and I believe that the same factors are still in play now as were then and, therefore, I support the Counter-Terrorism Policing’s request for a further and final six month extension” (here) .

The legislation shown in the image relates to temporary measures introduced to prevent the loss of biometrics that relate to national security risks. As outlined in the most recent statement from the Biometrics Commissioner, the total number of extensions granted under this legislation in the period April 2, 2020 to September 3, 2020 was 1,263. There is no connection between this legislation and testing for COVID-19.

VERDICT

False. There is no connection between a piece of legislation allowing for the retention of some biometrics for national security purposes and testing for COVID-19.

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