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Criminal responsibility age, children’s biometric data protection collide in Scotland

Commissioner reviews police biometrics collection from vulnerable people
Categories Biometrics News  |  Law Enforcement
Criminal responsibility age, children’s biometric data protection collide in Scotland

Clearer guidelines are needed, and possibly a change to the age of criminal responsibility, to ensure the collection of biometrics by Scotland’s police does not violate the rights of vulnerable people, according to new oversight recommendations. The Scottish Biometrics Commissioner (SBC), Dr. Brian Plastow, and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) recently released two reports on acquiring and retaining biometric data from children and vulnerable adults.

The review was partly an effort to determine whether Scotland’s criminal justice system complies with UK GDPR and EU regulations.

The reports examined acquiring and analyzing biometric data from children and vulnerable people who come into contact with the criminal justice system. It explored how police officers should respond to requests for biometric data and best practices when handling such material.

The SBC’s first report focused on collecting biometric data from children and young people in police custody. It concluded that there is a need to strengthen current guidance and protocols around when, how and why police should gather biometric data.

In particular, it was noted that children need an adult to ensure they comprehend the implications of biometric usage. A senior officer’s authorization should be required for any enrollment of a child’s biometrics, Plastow says.

He also believes the Scottish criminal responsibility age is too low.

“I would welcome policy initiatives to divert those under 18 years of age out of the adult system,” Plastow says. “This would provide the lever through which to avoid capturing biometric data from children, except in the most serious of crime types.”

The second report focused on using biometric data from vulnerable adults in police custody, including those with mental health problems and learning disabilities. It concluded that clear guidelines must be provided to ensure appropriate safeguards are in place when acquiring this kind of data.

The Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice (CYCJ) was consulted during the review process and spoke to children and young people who have experience with the criminal justice system to gather their views on when and how biometric data should be collected and retained.

“We were pleased to contribute on such an important issue,” says the CYCJ director Fiona Dyer. “Coming into contact with the justice system can be overwhelming for children and young people; there needs to be strict guidelines and proper training in place for professionals tasked with gathering this data. Above all, the authorities need to make clear why this practice is necessary and provide child-friendly guidelines.”

Police Scotland has been asked to respond to the review’s recommendations by June 30th, 2023. The SPA’s Policing Performance Committee invites Plastow to present at their meeting on June 15th before monitoring the progress towards implementing the report’s recommendations. Both reports can be found on the Commissioners Operations page.

Plastow was appointed to an eight-year term in 2021, and the country’s opposition party recently called for his role to be expanded.

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