Scotland considers appointing Independent Biometrics Commissioner

Scotland considers appointing Independent Biometrics Commissioner

Scottish Parliament is considering a bill to appoint an independent commissioner for biometrics to improve the handling of biometric data by police and ensure that investigations are lawfully carried out, the BBC reports.

The government called for the position to be created last September after hearing the recommendations of the Independent Advisory Group on the Use of Biometric Data. The Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill would lead to the oversight of the collection, storage, use, and disposal of DNA, fingerprints, facial recognition images, and other biometric data.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said biometric technology has major benefits for police, but also raises ethical and human rights issues.

“There is not yet a single commonly-recognised set of working standards around biometrics,” Yousaf says. “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.”

The UK has had a Biometrics Commissioner for several years, and the position has regularly been a source of criticism of police practice.

Scottish Police Authority (SPA) Director of Forensic Services Tom Nelson sat on the advisory group, and says that Scotland is a leader in biometric data storage practice. A £6 million (US$7.5 million) investment in 2015 also allows scientists in the country to examine 24 areas of DNA samples, while 17 is standard in Europe, according to the BBC.

An equality impact assessment found that the bill could have a positive impact on people whose biometric data is held by police, particularly those from vulnerable populations.

Assuming the bill passes parliament, the new commissioner will be tasked with assessing compliance with a code of practice, and recommending organizations that violate the code to parliament for censure. This arrangement has been criticized for giving the commissioner less power than the Information Commissioner.

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