Improved oversight of biometric data handling proposed

There is to be greater oversight of how the police handle personal forensic data under new proposals.

The Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill would regulate how officers take, store, use and dispose of data such as fingerprints, DNA samples and facial images.

Under the legislation, a commissioner would be appointed to support and promote the adoption of lawful, effective and ethical practices when biometric data is handled for criminal justice and police purposes.

Humza Yousaf
Humza Yousaf said the approach to biometric data must be ‘lawful, effective and ethical’ (PA)

The commissioner would oversee the adoption of a new code of practice by Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority to ensure data is handled in the proper way.

They will be appointed by and accountable to Parliament and will be able to make recommendations if they believe an organisation is not adhering to the code of practice.

If that was the case, the relevant body could be called to account to Parliament.

The proposals will be scrutinised by MSPs before they vote on whether to make them law.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “Technological advances in biometrics have brought huge benefits to police and other justice agencies in detecting, preventing and prosecuting crime.

“However their use also raises a number of ethical and human rights considerations. The Scottish Government wants to ensure that the approach to biometric data in policing and criminal justice system is lawful, effective and ethical.

“There is not yet a single commonly recognised set of working standards around biometrics.

“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.”

Human rights lawyer John Scott QC chaired the Independent Advisory Group on Biometric Data which reported last year.

The legislative recommendations made by the group form the basis of the Bill.

Mr Scott said: “Biometric data, including existing technologies relating to fingerprints and DNA, are used to promote public safety in various ways.

“The new framework will ensure that this is done while taking full account of the rights of the individual, not least the right to privacy and security when it comes to the most personal information about them such as can be derived from biometric data.

“This Bill, along with related work on the new Ethics Advisory Group for Biometrics recommended by the Independent Advisory Group, will help to place Scotland once more in the vanguard of the ethical development of existing and emerging technologies.”

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