British police forces in the UK are still retaining millions of images of innocent citizens, despite a court order to destroy them over a decade ago. This raises concerns about privacy and the potential misuse of these images for surveillance purposes.


According to the UK’s outgoing biometrics and surveillance commissioner [2] [3], Fraser Sampson [1] [2], a high court ruling in 2012 instructed the police to dispose of custody photographs for individuals who were not charged with any crimes [2] [3]. However, these photographs [2] [3], estimated to number “well over” three million [3], are still being held on a database without a bulk delete capability [3]. This retention of images poses a significant risk, particularly in relation to the use of AI-assisted systems for crowd surveillance. Sampson criticizes the police for their lack of a comprehensive plan to address this issue, as it undermines public trust and confidence [2]. He emphasizes the importance of public trust in the police’s ability to handle new technologies like facial recognition [1], especially considering the legacy problems associated with previous images [1]. Additionally, Sampson highlights the absence of checks and balances governing the police’s use of privacy-invasive technology [2], as facial images can be obtained not only from official police cameras but also from social media [2]. This regulatory gap needs to be addressed [2], particularly given the vast amount of facial images shared on a daily basis [2].


The retention of millions of images of innocent citizens by British police forces has significant implications for privacy and civil liberties. It is crucial for the police to develop a comprehensive plan to address this issue and ensure the deletion of these images. This will help rebuild public trust and confidence in the police’s handling of new technologies, such as facial recognition. Additionally, there is a pressing need to establish checks and balances to govern the use of privacy-invasive technology by the police, considering the ease with which facial images can be obtained from various sources. Failure to address these concerns may have far-reaching consequences for individual privacy and the overall trust in law enforcement agencies.