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Scottish Parliament consults on biometrics commissioner

01/07/19

Mark Say Managing Editor

The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee has launched a call for evidence on new Scottish Government proposals to appoint a biometrics commissioner for the country.

It follows the recent announcement of the plans, with a strong focus on overseeing how police use fingerprints, DNA samples and facial scans.

The commissioner would be tasked with overseeing the use of the data by Police Scotland or the Scottish Police Authority, with a focus on the ethical and human rights implications of the technologies. In particular, he or she would look at how authorities will collect, use, store and dispose of biometric data safely, and at promoting compliance with the guidance set out.

The committee will examine issues such as whether the commissioner is likely to be able to enforce compliance effectively, and whether the Scottish Parliament bill’s proposals on the role, responsibility and power of the role strike the right balance.

Margaret Mitchell

Committee convener Margaret Mitchell MSP (pictured) said: “Balancing rights and responsibilities is always difficult, particularly when looking at questions around protecting the public from harm versus protecting the public from state intrusion.

"The rapid development of technology that can identify individuals by using highly personal data, and the huge risks associated with this sort of data being used improperly, means that these are interesting and timely proposals from the Scottish Government.

“The committee will grapple with whether the idea to create this new commissioner is the right way to deal with these issues, and whether the commissioner’s proposed powers and remit are fit for the challenges ahead."

Code of practice

The Scottish Government published the bill in May, saying one job of the commissioner would be to prepare a code of practice on the use of biometric data by the police.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: "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.”

The consultation is open at www.parliament.scot/Justice-Committee.

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