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Scottish Justice Secretary talks ethics, calls biometrics bill “narrow”

Scottish Justice Secretary talks ethics, calls biometrics bill “narrow”

As Scotland is looking into new legislation for the role of biometrics commissioner, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf believes the use of biometric technology by law enforcement in the country has to be “effective, proportionate and ethical,” writes Scottish publication The National.

During a meeting of Holyrood’s Justice Committee, Yousaf said “the bill is narrow,” as he is currently looking into possibly assigning more responsibilities to the commissioner by not limiting the role to Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority, and possibly extending it to the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and British Transport Police (BTP).

He emphasized the importance of ethics in the handling of personal information by law enforcement agencies.

“I want to ensure that our approach to biometric data, including new technologies such as facial recognition software, is effective, proportionate and, of course, ethical,” he said.

“This bill creates an independent commissioner to advise on these issues and to oversee police policy and practice. My ultimate goal is to keep communities safe while obviously respecting the rights of individuals and improving the accountability of the police.”

In 2018, the Scottish Government started looking into appointing a biometrics commissioner to assist with regulating the use of biometrics by law enforcement. The initial recommendation for the role was made by the Independent Advisory Group on the Use of Biometric Data.

This is not the first time Justice Secretary Yousaf discussed the benefits biometric technology has for police but also warned about the potential ethical and human rights issues that could arise.

“There is not yet a single commonly-recognized set of working standards around biometrics,” Yousaf said in May. “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.”

In September, rights advocacy groups Open Rights Group, Amnesty International Scotland and Big Brother Watch asked the government to expand the scope of the proposed biometrics commissioner position to cover all public and private organizations.

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