Lib Dems demand action over mugshots of innocents held by police

Police Scotland and the Scottish Government have failed to meet a series of recommendations set out in a report which warned mugshots of thousands of innocent people are being held in an online database.

Most mugshots are kept by police for at least six years, but those accused of more serious offences have their mugshot retained for up to 12 years.

Scotland on Sunday revealed last year that custody photos are kept by police for up to 12 years even when no further action is taken.

Now it has emerged that all four recommendations made by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) on the regulation of biometric data have not been implemented.

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HMICS called for the consideration of legislation governing the retention of photographic images, as well as the establishment of an independent commissioner and a new statutory code of practice for the use of biometric data such as mugshots and DNA samples.

In the report published in January last year, HMICS warned that there was no statutory framework or legislation in Scotland regulating how the police use or retain photographic images.

While fingerprint and DNA samples are destroyed if criminal proceedings are dropped, mugshots are kept on the police’s “custody software” under a practice which predates the formation of Police Scotland.

Most images are kept for at least six years, but those accused of more serious offences have their mugshot retained for up to 12 years.

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur said: “A year ago the HMICS report vindicated the Liberal Democrat investigation and campaign calling for controls governing how the police handle our most personal information, including the use of facial recognition technology.

“It is therefore frustrating that we are no closer to knowing which of its independent expert recommendations will be implemented and when.

“The Scottish Government must immediately set out when we can expect the new safeguards, including a code of practice and independent commissioner, to be in place. The Scottish Liberal Democrats won’t allow ministers to cherry pick or kick such important protections into the long grass.”

While Police Scotland retains the mugshots of those not subsequently charged, the images are not uploaded to the Police National Database (PND) as is the case in England and Wales.

The PND allows officers to search for a match among custody pictures using images taken from sources such as CCTV and mobile phones.

Since 2014, UK police forces have been able to carry out “facial searches” using mugshots stored on the PND, which was introduced after intelligence gaps were identified following the murder of schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman by Ian Huntley in 2002.

A spokesman for HMICS said it had met with Scottish Government officials who it said are continuing to liaise with the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland to discharge the report’s recommendations.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring the right balance is struck between protecting the public and safeguarding the rights of individuals and welcomed HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland’s review of the use of facial search functionality. Scottish Government officials are continuing to discuss how best to implement the recommendations with the Scottish Police Authority, Police Scotland and HMICS.”

A Police Scotland spokesman added: “We are working closely with the Scottish Police Authority, Scottish Government and HMICS to progress this work.”