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MSPs call for extra powers for future Scottish biometrics commissioner

09/12/19

Mark Say Managing Editor

Members of the Scottish Parliament have called for a national biometrics commissioner to be given extra powers to those outlined in the Scottish Government’s bill.

The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee has concluded its inquiry on the plan by supporting the proposal for a commission and code of practice for the use of biometrics by the police, but also called for the postholder to be given more power to ensure the protection of personal data.

In a report on the issue its members have voiced support for the commissioner’s role to be flexible, allowing the person to adapt to new forms of biometric data not yet used or considered by the police. This would come on top of the identified methods such as fingerprinting, voice pattern analysis and facial recognition.

Wider oversight

But they called for the provisions of the bill to be strengthened and for the commissioner to have oversight of biometric data used and held by other policing bodies, such as British Transport Police and the National Crime Agency. In its present form the bill would only give the commissioner oversight of Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority.

The MSPs have also recommended that the commissioner should have stronger enforcement powers.

Margaret Mitchell

Convenor of the committee Margaret Mitchell MSP (pictured) said: “As technology advances at lightning pace and ever more information becomes available to the police, the need for this Commissioner to ensure that public and human rights concerns are kept to the fore becomes ever more pressing.”

She added: “To ensure the commissioner has the necessary teeth and oversight to protect privacy effectively, the committee wants to see stronger enforcement powers and other policing bodies added to commissioner’s remit before their office is created.

“The committee also wants the principles of protecting human rights, privacy, and delivering community safety to be enshrined in the bill, and to underpin any use of biometric data by police.”

Regulation recommendations

The Scottish Government’s proposal has emerged from its plans to regulate the use of biometric data in law enforcement. These follow the recommendations of the Independent Advisory Group on the Use of Biometric Data.

This proposed a code of practice on how various biometrics – DNA, fingerprints, facial and other images – should be used, stored and disposed of, including a presumption that the data should be deleted after a minimum retention period.

Image from Scottish Parliament Justice Committee

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