Scottish ‘biometrics commissioner’ to oversee police use of personal forensic data

Greater oversight of how the police take, store, use, and dispose of data such as finger-prints, DNA samples, and facial images, will be created under proposals published in Parliament.

The Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill aims to help improve how biometric data is handled by police, ensuring that “it is done in a lawful, ethical, and effective way during investigations”, said the Scottish Government in a statement.

The Commissioner will also prepare a code of practice to provide guidance and information on good practice in relation to the acquisition, retention, use, and destruction of biometric data by Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority.
 
“Technological advances in biometrics have brought huge benefits to police and other justice agencies in detecting, preventing and prosecuting crime,” said Humza Yousaf, the Justice Secretary. “However, their use also raises a number of ethical and human rights considerations. The Scottish Government wants to ensure that the approach to biometric data in policing and criminal justice system is lawful, effective and ethical.
 
“There is not yet a single commonly recognised set of working standards around biometrics.  The new Commissioner and the code of practice will complement the work of others, including the Information Commissioner, and help maintain public confidence in how new technologies and data are being used to help keep crime down and communities safe.”
 
“Biometric data, including existing technologies relating to fingerprints and DNA, are used to promote public safety in various ways,” said John Scott QC, a human rights lawyer who chaired the Independent Advisory Group on Biometric Data which reported last year and whose legislative recommendations form the basis of the Bill introduced to Parliament.
 
“The new framework will ensure that this is done while taking full account of the rights of the individual, not least the right to privacy and security when it comes to the most personal information about them such as can be derived from biometric data.
 
“This Bill, along with related work on the new Ethics Advisory Group for Biometrics recommended by the Independent Advisory Group, will help to place Scotland once more in the vanguard of the ethical development of existing and emerging technologies.”