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Scotland, UK governments tackle biometrics ethics with new Commissioners, report

Government pursues ethical course amid increase in biometrics use

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The Scottish Parliament has nominated Dr. Brian Plastow as the country’s first Biometrics Commissioner.

A former police Chief Superintendent and lead inspector for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland, Plastow was appointed earlier this month after an open recruitment competition.

As explained by a post on The Scottish Parliament website, the role of the Biometrics Commissioner was established by The Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Act 2020, and Plastow is the first individual to hold it.

According to the legislation, Plastow will now work towards the adoption of “lawful, effective and ethical practices in relation to biometric data in a policing and criminal justice context.”

The Biometrics Commissioner will hold the post for a fixed term of eight years, with a reported salary of £70,000 (roughly $97,500) per year.

The UK’s new Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner Fraser Samson has introduced himself with a blog post, meanwhile, detailing his own law enforcement background and his priorities in the dual position. Samson has ‘met’ with previous Surveillance Camera Commissioner Tony Porter, and largely plans to continue the efforts of his predecessors.

Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group releases 2019 annual report

The new document analyses the issues considered by the Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group (BFEG) between April 2019 and April 2020.

The third iteration of the paper, the annual report takes into consideration ethical issues related to a number of biometric and forensic applications.

These include identification of remains washed ashore, updates to the National DNA Database, use of near-match DNA reports, and feasibility of genetic genealogy techniques for law enforcement. The use of next-generation DNA sequencing technologies for forensic analysis custody images, and prenatal DNA testing for nationality claims are considered, with the BFEG recommending against the practice.

In the report, BFEG also explained how it organized its working groups according to themes.

The Home Office Biometrics (HOB) program Ethics Working Group, for instance, continued advising on the program’s Data Protection Impact Assessments, as well its governance review, with particular attention to data sharing and oversight arrangement.

The Facial Recognition Working Group, on the other hand, built on its February 2019 interim report to discuss ethical issues arising from police use of live facial recognition (LFR) technology, particularly the use of publicly available images from law enforcement, and LFR collaborations between police forces and private entities.

This last issue was tackled by the Facial Recognition Working Group via the release of a public call for evidence in March 2020, but the experts clarified that further evidence gathering supporting their research was postponed due to the pandemic and will be available in the next BFEG annual report.

During the last year, the BFEG has also formed two new working groups, respectively to advise projects considering the adoption of artificial intelligence, and to provide ethical consideration support on the use of data throughout the development of new projects.

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