Group to consider legal and ethical issues around police use of technology

An independent group will be set up to evaluate how new technology is adopted and used by police in Scotland, it has been announced.

The group will examine the potential legal and ethical issues which could arise from the use of emerging technological developments.

It follows concerns raised over the rollout of 41 “cyber kiosks” by Police Scotland.

The devices are laptop-sized machines that are able to bypass encryption on devices such as mobile phones so personal data can be read quickly.

In April, MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Sub-Committee on Policing said that the rollout of the technology should be halted until there is greater clarity over the legal framework for their use.

The work carried out by the committee was welcomed by both Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA).

Person using a mobile phone
MSPs raised concerns over the use of cyber kiosks, which can bypass encryption on mobile phones and other devices (Philip Toscano/PA)

Police Scotland indicated that they had received written confirmation from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service about the clear legal basis, and robust statutory regime, for use of the technology.

Speaking at the committee on Thursday, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf outlined his intention to set up the independently chaired reference group and said that although a specific date has not yet been set, it should not take long to establish.

“I wouldn’t want it to wait too long at all, I think these things should move at a good pace,” said Mr Yousaf.

“I’d be very keen to hear both the (Justice) sub-committee and the Justice Committee’s views on potential for membership and remit, but this is not a lengthy process to get this group up and running.”

Mr Yousaf explained the group would look not only at concerns around devices such as cyber kiosks, but at other emerging technologies in the future.

He said: “It’s not being created to look specifically at digital triage devices, because Police Scotland and SPA believe that they have that legal basis.

“It doesn’t preclude them from looking at that, the independent group should have, because of its independence, as wide a berth to look at whatever technologies – past, present, future – that it wishes to do so.

“But it is more than just digital triage devices, more so in terms of the pace of technological change, what do we envisage will come our way in the next five plus years, and are we sufficiently ensuring we have the ethical and human rights protections to go alongside that technology.”

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