MI5 is making improvements to some of its IT systems in response to recommendations made by the coroner at the inquests into the July 7 London bombings in 2005.
Lady Justice Hallett, the coroner, urged MI5 to improve how it handled and shared data, and to improve its processes to ensure that it showed the best-quality photos to witnesses.
MI5 was criticised at the inquest for cropping a colour photograph of suspect Mohammad Siddique Khan so poorly that it could not be shown to a witness for identification purposes.
The agency said that it has now improved its IT systems and photography procedures to ensure that the incident cannot happen again.
It said that in 2004, the majority of MI5 photos were taken using ‘wet film’ and scanned onto a flatbed scanner and uploaded onto the corporate IT system before it was cropped using “software available to in the service at the time”.
The quality of the image was reduced during the scanning process, and then further still by the cropping software the agency used.
MI5 said that the system used today involves ensuring that all photographs taken by the agency are taken with digital equipment, and using an up-to-date, commercially-available software to crop images. The organisation also now has a dedicated digital processing and production IT system.
It added that the new photograph editing software was a “substantial improvement” on the software used in 2004.
Meanwhile, MI5 said that it has invested in an IT system that enables the electronic transfer of photographs to encrypted electronic devices used by handlers when showing photographs to informants. It said that this had improved the overall quality of the photographs it displays.
“There is therefore significantly less risk that the poor cropping of the photograph of Man E that took place in 2004 could reoccur in 2011,” the agency said.
However, MI5 admitted that the system was not yet perfect. It said that it still needed to improve the connectivity between the agency and some of its partners with whom it shares images, to avoid the photo degradation that occurs when hard-copy prints are scanned into the agency’s IT systems.
To this end, it will be investing in implementing this connectivity to enable routine digital transfer of high-quality images, as part of its ongoing investment in IT.
The coroner also raised concerns about the emergency services’ information-sharing capability.
For example, despite the emergency services using electronic information-capturing systems, such as the police’s computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system, the information could not be viewed by other emergency services.
Nonetheless, the coroner welcomed initiatives such as the work being carried out by the British Transport Police to integrate their CAD systems with those of other regional forces.