An independent advisory group set up by the Scottish Parliament is working to identify potential issues arising from emerging technologies in policing, such as cyber kiosks or body-worn video.

The group, established in May to ensure the use of up-and-coming technologies in operational policing is compatible with equality and human rights legislation, issued a call for evidence on July 5.

It will report to justice secretary Keith Brown in spring next year to advise on whether current legal or ethical frameworks need to be updated in order to ensure Police Scotland’s use of technology is lawful.

The panel of 17 experts will also provide specific recommendations or concrete products to address any identified issues.

Its remit is to consider what potential impact emerging technologies or analytical techniques – ‘either currently available or in development, but not presently deployed’ – could have on the force’s detection and prevention of crime.

The group is not focussing on any particular technology as part of its work, instead it is aiming to ensure that appropriate frameworks are in place that “allow for the consideration and introduction of new technologies”.

In the last parliamentary session, the committee explored issues relating to the potential introduction of cyber kiosks, facial recognition, body-worn video and remote piloted aircraft systems – such as drones.

Police Scotland’s rollout of cyber kiosk’s in January 2020 proved controversial. The devices allow officers to bypass encryption to read personal data from certain digital devices, including some models of mobile phones or laptops, without using a password.

The force bought 41 cyber kiosks, which it had intended to circulate among police stations across Scotland from autumn 2018, before postponing their introduction amid concerns over the legal basis for their use.

The Scottish Police Authority faced criticism from the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Sub-Committee on Policing for a lack of effective scrutiny, while MSPs warned Police Scotland had not followed best practice before trialling the devices.

Live facial recognition technology, which has been used by several police forces in England and Wales in collaboration with the private sector, has also caused contention.

In August 2020 the UK Court of Appeal unanimously reached a decision against a face-recognition system used by South Wales Police.

This came after Ed Bridges appealed against a ruling that South Wales Police did not breach his human rights. The welshman initially launched a case after police cameras digitally analysed his face in the street.

The AFR Locate system, deemed “unlawful” by the entire panel of the Court of Appeal judges, compares images captured using the system against a database of images of people on a watch list, including criminal suspects and people of interest.

The work of the Independent Advisory Group on Emerging Technologies in Policing is being progressed via four work streams, who will each produce a separate report and recommendations which will all feed in to produce the final output of the group. The work streams are as follows:

  • legal framework and ethical standards
  • evidence and scientific standards
  • consultation and community engagement
  • oversight, scrutiny and review

Each of these separate work streams have devised questions for this call for evidence and are keen to receive responses which will be used to enhance their understanding and aid their considerations:

The pledge to form the group on emerging technologies in policing was made by the former cabinet secretary for justice, Humza Yousaf, at a session of the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing in 2019.

Members of the public are invited to submit their views in writing by August 20.