Consultation on police handling of biometric data launched

A police officer holding a new mobile fingerprint scanning system which allows police to identify a potential suspect in under a minute. Picture: PA
A police officer holding a new mobile fingerprint scanning system which allows police to identify a potential suspect in under a minute. Picture: PA
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A consultation has been launched today on plans to improve the management of biometric data collected by the police in Scotland.

The Scottish Government wants to introduce additional safeguards to ensure the safe and proportionate use of fingerprints, DNA and facial recognition technology.

A public consultation is now underway in response to recommendations made by an Independent Advisory Group on biometrics earlier this year.

It asks for views on the creation of a code of practice on the use, storage and disposal of biometric data to be overseen by a new Scottish Biometrics Commissioner.

The arrangements will cover data held by the likes of Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority and other bodies involved in law enforcement activity in Scotland.

Cabinet secretary Humza Yousaf said: “Biometric data is critical to police investigations, including the prevention of crime. At the same time, it is important that the public have confidence in how this information is held, used and disposed of, which is why we want their views on these proposals.

“The creation of a code of practice, and a new commissioner to oversee that, will allow us to take full advantage of current and new technologies, and future developments in biometrics. By asking the public their views we are recognising not only the significance of biometrics to policing but also the important ethical and human rights considerations associated with such information.”

The Scottish Human Rights Commission said it was a “timely moment” in Scots law as it allowed the development of a more ethical system.

Judith Robertson, chair of the commission, said: “Biometric data has important implications for privacy and other human rights, such as the right to be presumed innocent.

“This is a timely moment as it allows Scottish law and policy in this area to develop in a human rights-based, ethical manner which gives appropriate weight to considerations of public protection on the one hand, and privacy and other relevant human rights on the other.

“The commission welcomes the introduction of a code of practice based on legislation and an ethics advisory group which will provide a valuable forum for considering the ethical impact on society, groups and individuals of using biometric technologies.

“We also strongly support the need for an independent Scottish Biometrics Commissioner answerable to the Scottish Parliament and with adequate resources to ensure trust, transparency and accountability for the collection of personal data.

“There is a continuing need to raise public awareness and confidence in other areas of technology where data is gathered and used. Human rights should continue to be mainstreamed into the strategies, policies and operational processes of policing as well as in other public and private organisations that use modern technologies and personal data.”

John Scott QC, who chaired the advisory group, said: “Biometric technologies are a fast-developing area – consider, for example, recent debate around facial recognition – with potential for enhanced public protection and security.

“It is, however, crucial that such developments occur in an ethical framework with proper respect for privacy and other human rights, as opposed to being solely technology-driven.

“To seek to ensure that there is appropriate public confidence and trust in technology and retention of data, we recommended in our report that steps should be taken towards improved public awareness and engagement.”