Scotland’s biometrics commissioner has backed a proposal to host a summit on the regulatory implications of AI among the four UK home nations.

Dr Brian Plastow says the deployment of artificial intelligence technologies presents ‘acute ethical challenges’ to regulators, which need “joined-up”, “coherent UK thinking”.

Dr Plastow, who oversees a biometrics code of practice in Scotland, for policing and criminal justice, says that Governnent has a key role in creating an enabling environment for business to thrive, whilst also ensuring people are protected.

Dr Plastow outlined his concerns in a letter to innovation minister Richard Lochhead, who raised the prospect of an ‘intensified dialogue’ between UK home nations last week un a debate on AI at the Scottish Parliament.

Dr Plastow writes: “Although AI transcends all sectors, its deployment can sometimes present acute ethical challenges which do not always have clear answers. Without legislation, regulation, and effective independent oversight, businesses, consumers, and the public sector may be nervous about adopting it.

“Equally, the absence of legislation, regulation, and effective independent oversight can lead to unethical experimentation. Therefore, building public confidence and trust is essential if we are to capitalise on the many benefits that AI has to offer.”

In a criminal justice context, he gave an example of how trust can be lost when AI is implemented quickly and fails to secure public buy-in. He said how in police forces south of the border, the use of live facial recognition technology had amounted to ‘unregulated police experimentation with biometric enabled mass public space surveillance’, which in ‘some cases are not fit for purpose, including some with algorithms proven to discriminate against people with black or brown skin.’

He added: “At the same time, the UK government is in the process of abolishing the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner for England and Wales as part of its de-regulation agenda. I have recently written a letter to Carol Monaghan MP highlighting my concerns on this issue, including devolution consequences for Scotland. 

“In a European Context, this erosion of trust has witnessed the EU move towards a full ban on remote AI-aided biometric identification. This is unfortunate, as an outright ban also precludes police use in situations where an acute threat to public safety cannot be mitigated by conventional policing techniques alone.”

Dr Plastow drew attention to Principal 8 of the Scottish Biometrics Code of Practice, which seeks to ‘encourage scientific and technological advancement, and mandates that any AI-enabled algorithms for biometric matching must be free from bias, and be non-discriminatory on the grounds of race, gender, or any protected characteristic’.

He said: “The success of the Scottish model revolves around those three fundamentals of legislation, regulation, and independent oversight, and our work in this area is known to colleagues in the Scottish AI Alliance leadership group. 

“Accordingly, I support your call for more joined-up and coherent UK thinking in this space.”