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Scottish Biometrics Commissioner confident in police efforts so far

Scottish Biometrics Commissioner confident in police efforts so far

The Scottish Biometrics Commissioner (SBC) said that in his analysis, Parliament should have confidence in how biometric data and technologies are currently used for policing and criminal justice purposes in the country.

Dr. Brian Plastow made the statement in its first annual report, which he presented before the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.

According to the new data, there are currently 640,010 images of 374,405 individuals attached to records held on the Police Scotland Criminal History System and the UK Police National Database (PND). Over a million other photos are also held for policing and criminal justice purposes on various databases with no automated biometric searching capabilities.

As for DNA, the figures are 383,279 profiles on the Scottish DNA database and 19,845 unmatched DNA profiles.

The report also mentions 739,408 fingerprint templates from arrests in Scotland on the UK fingerprint database (IDENT1), relating to 412,127 people. In this regard, the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner also mentions the UK match rate for fingerprints recovered at a crime scene to an existing criminal justice profile is currently 65.9 percent.

Beyond the raw numbers, Plastow outlines that the public attitudes and awareness survey conducted for the SBC by ScotCen in December 2021 points to ‘fairly high’ levels of public confidence in the use of biometrics for policing and criminal justice purposes in Scotland.

“Unlike other UK jurisdictions, Police Scotland do not retain images of persons on the Police National Database (PND) who are not charged or convicted, unless they already have previous convictions,” Plastow writes.

At the same time, there have been significant concerns about the use of biometric data in other public sector contexts in Scotland during 2021/22, particularly in schools and in healthcare.

Plastow’s first annual report also provides three sets of recommendations for Parliament. The first one calls for a legal resolution to realign the provisions of Section 28 (period of Strategic Plan) and Section 29 (budget period) of the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Act 2020, in line with the policy intention of the original legislation.

Secondly, the SBC warns that any future expansion of its functions beyond policing should involve discussion before the Commissioner and the Scottish government. This, Plastow wrote, should be done before producing a comprehensive business assessment of the likely impact on both the established function and personal responsibilities of the Commissioner.

Finally, the Commissioner said that in contributing biometric or forensic data to UK policing systems, the Scottish Police should ensure they have the functionality to administer and maintain that Scottish data, in compliance with Scottish legislation and any Codes of Practice in terms of its use.

Plastow was nominated Scotland’s first Biometrics Commissioner in 2021 and, despite the Covid pandemic, established a body to provide independent oversight of biometric data and technologies used for criminal justice and policing purposes in the country.

Scotland is also currently in the process of finalizing its biometric code of practice for law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

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