Police Scotland admits uploading ‘mugshots’

Sally Foster-Fulton: concerns
Sally Foster-Fulton: concerns
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POLICE Scotland is among forces uploading images to a controversial “mugshot database” criticised by privacy watchdogs.

Last week MPs expressed their shock that 18 million images are on the UK-wide Police National Database, many of which are of people who have never been convicted of a crime.

Police Scotland said it added images to the database on a “daily basis”, but only of those charged with an offence.

The details emerged as the Church of Scotland warned about the collection of biometric data belonging to those who have “done nothing more than travel internationally”.

Earlier this month, the Commons’ science and technology committee said it was “alarmed” that police in England and Wales had collected the mugshots of innocent and guilty people alike to use with facial recognition technology.

The MPs noted a “worrying” lack of government oversight and regulation of the use of biometrics by public bodies.

In a submission to the committee, the Church of Scotland’s church and society council said it had privacy concerns about the development of biometric technology.

“In developing and implementing legislation, it must be borne in mind that the movement of biometric data takes place across international boundaries,” it said. “For example, the US has bilat­eral agreements to share biometric data of people who enter or leave the country with at least 25 other countries, including the UK. Thus, where only a few years ago biometric data files (eg fingerprints) might have been limited to those who had been suspected or accused of a crime, we now have a situation where government security agencies have access to the biometric data of people who have done nothing more than travel internationally. This is a cause of some concern in terms of privacy.”

Gaps in the scrutiny of biometrics were highlighted when it emerged police forces in England and Wales had been uploading mugshots of innocent people to the nat­ional database without the knowledge of the Home Office.

Police Scotland declined to comment on how many images had been added by it and the country’s legacy forces.

A spokesman aid: “Police Scotland uses this technology legally and in a very different way to forces in England and Wales. A limited number of images of people who have been charged are uploaded and removed on a daily basis. These are the only images we supply to this UK database.”

The Commons committee said that despite a 2012 High Court ruling that the retention of police mugshots was “unlawful”, the gap in legislation had persisted.

It called for day-to-day independent oversight of the police use of all biometrics, calling for the Biometrics Commissioner’s jurisdiction to be extended beyond DNA and fingerprints.

Sally Foster-Fulton, convener of the Church of Scotland’s church and society council, said: “Biometrics potentially brings great opportunities and benefits. However, it must be recognised that there are also potential areas where the privacy of the individuals from whom the data is being collected/generated is compromised. The regulation of the collection and use of this data is clearly very important.”


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