Critics charge Scottish Biometrics Commissioner will lack scope, enforcement power

Critics charge Scottish Biometrics Commissioner will lack scope, enforcement power

Public interest advocates have criticized the Scottish government’s plans to create a Biometrics Commissioner, saying the position would hold less power than the Scottish Information Commissioner, The Ferret reports.

The lack of regulation for Police Scotland’s database of facial images was first criticized by Members of Scottish Parliament in 2015, and the creation of the new Biometric Commissioner position is one of several recommendations made this year by an Independent Advisory Committee. Public consultations to guide the creation of the code of practice which the Commissioner will be tasked with upholding have begun, but critics say the Commissioner will not have adequate powers to enforce that code, according to Open Rights Group Scotland (ORG).

“While the Scottish Information Commissioner, a similar body but in a different area of public life, could refer a public body who fails to comply with a notice to the courts in Scotland, the Biometrics Commissioner would only be able to refer it to the Scottish Parliament,” said ORG Director Mathew Rice.

Rice also noted that the Commissioner would be tasked with overseeing public bodies and community safety issues, which may leave private uses of biometric technology outside his or her scope.

Liberal Democrat MSP Liam MacArthur also criticized the post’s limitations.

“Biometric data is very powerful and there must be no scope for its misuse. We must be careful to ensure the increasing prevalence of biometric systems does not fool us into assuming they are infallible,” MacArthur said. “It is important the Biometrics Commissioner will be able to command appropriate authority and have the ability to refer cases to the courts if necessary. Biometric technologies are creeping into our everyday lives and now have a presence far beyond the criminal sphere. For the commissioner to have a comprehensive grasp on biometric capabilities their reach must extend to biometrics wherever they are found, be it in education, health or retail.”

A government spokesperson pointed out that the draft proposals were arrived at through the recommendations of the Independent Advisory Board, and the government will consider the results of the current public consultation once it closes.

“We want to ensure the right balance is struck between the delivery of justice, community safety, privacy, ethics and wider human rights in the use of biometric data and technologies,” said the spokesperson.

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