Independent organization to investigate Scottish police’s use of biometric data

July 7, 2017 - 

A new independent group will begin investigating the Scottish police’s use of acquiring and storing of citizens’ biometric data, including mugshots, fingerprints and DNA samples, according to a report by The Herald.

The move comes a couple months after reports that Scottish police began considering implementing new technology that could compare fingerprints left at murder scenes against a national biometrics database using a mobile phone.

The group will be headed by John Scott QC, whose previous work led to Police Scotland putting an end to its disproportionate use of stop-and-search.

The organization will also analyze the use of data from CCTV, road traffic and police body cameras.

The end goal is to compile a report by the end of the year on the ethics and governance of retaining and disposing biometric data, and whether to introduce new laws and regulations.

The government released an HMCIS report last year on police use of biometric data, recommending stronger legislation, a set of guidelines and the creation of new position for a Biometrics Commissioner.

Police Scotland currently retains custody photos for up to 12 years, regardless of whether the individual is charged or not. However, unlike England and Wales, mugshots are not added to the Police National Database.

Scott said the biometric review will center around the key principles of “proportionality and necessity”, focusing specifically on the retention of facial images by the police and other law enforcement. Currently, there is no consistent regulations governing the use, retention and disposal of biometric data.

“This is a timely review in an important and fast-developing area,” Scott said. “Scottish rules on retention of biometric data have been the subject of positive comment elsewhere, notably from the European Court of Human Rights when it looked at equivalent English rules in 2008.

“It is appropriate to consider if we are still getting the balance right, especially as there are new types of biometric data being used by our police, courts and prosecutors. In addition to the use and retention of facial images, we will look at questions which may arise with developing types of biometric data in the hope that we can establish principles informed by relevant ethical and human rights considerations to inform the delicate balancing exercise involved.”

Additionally, SNP Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said the review “aims to bring certainty to and maintain public confidence in police use of this data to investigate crime and protect the public,” while incorporating the HMICS recommendations on use of facial search technology to find “the right balance between safeguarding the public and the rights of individuals when we decide how biometric data should be used in future.”

The Independent Advisory Group on the Use of Biometric Data includes representatives from Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMCIS), the Crown Office, the Scottish Human Rights Commission and the Information Commissioner’s Office, along with academic expertise.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.