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Scottish biometrics commissioner objects to proposals to abolish position of UK counterpart

Police ‘to do whatever they like in the biometrics space’ if post abolished

Dr Brian Plastow, the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner has objected to proposals to abolish the position of Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner for England and Wales, saying that in the event of its removal police may be given “carte blanche to do whatever they like in the biometrics space.”

Plastow went on to outline fears around the “chilling effect of rolling out mass public space surveillance” and of police forces “transgressing any ethical boundaries.”

The news comes after these plans for the post’s abolition, currently held by Fraser Sampson, were outlined in clauses 4 and 5 of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, published May 5. This outlined a regulatory framework to govern the regulation of the processing of information relating to identified or identifiable living individuals.

In a letter to Carol Monaghan, MP Scottish National Party (SNP) for Glasgow North East, Plastow dubs the idea that the use of biometric data such as DNA, fingerprints, and facial images by police forces “are simply questions of data protection” as “erroneous.”

Moving on, Plastow then says that the proposition’s argument implies that “ensuring compliance with criminal procedure legislation when acquiring biometric data, or questions of effectiveness or efficiency in their retention and use, or ethical considerations are no longer important enough to continue with independent oversight.”

The academic, who has served in his position since April 2021, highlighted that ICO’s remit wouldn’t cover these types of issues.

As part of the letter Plastow also pointed out the importance of data protection of the dead, highlighting that DPA/GDPR “only protects the living”, the UK’s police forces have a large quantity of data about the dead on file.

Outside of Scotland, plans to abolish the office have met with significant backlash

UK academics Pete Fussey and William Webster objected to the plans last week, citing a comparable set of issues, such as independent oversight of facial recognition being “crucial to public trust” and that “surveillance oversight is historically and currently overburdened and under-resourced.”

Despite widespread scrutiny from both inside and outside government, UK police forces remain insistent on the value of biometrics.

According to reporting from the Financial Times, The UK’s policing minister, Chris Philp wants to push forward with the use of facial recognition across police forces nationally.

Plastow has already went on the record last week about his encroaching concerns over biometric-enabled surveillance architecture by police.

The commissioner urged Police Scotland as well as police forces throughout the country to “deeply consider the legal and ethical standing” of the suppliers of their surveillance equipment.

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