Scotland set for world-first guidelines on authorities’ use of biometric data

A new biometric code of practice will shortly be put before ministers for their approval

Credit: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay 

Scotland will reportedly become the first country in the world to have a statutory Code of Practice on the use of biometric data for policing and criminal justice by the end of the year.  

A draft code – covering the acquisition, retention, use and destruction of biometric data by law enforcement and the judiciary – was recently drawn up the Scottish Government’s justice and veterans secretary Keith Brown. The code has now been approved, without amendment, by the Scottish Parliament, Brown revealed in a recent letter to, Brian Plastow, who was appointed last year as Scotland’s first biometrics commissioner. 

The code will now be brought before Holyrood ministers on 7 September and, if approved, will be brought into effect in or around 16 November.  

This comes after HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, said that she “would welcome oversight” from the Biometrics Data Commissioner on the issue earlier this year.  

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There is currently no general independent oversight of how biometric data and technologies are being used in Scottish prisons, except for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which looks at data protection, and the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office, which oversees covert surveillance.

Plastow commented in an earlier letter to the convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee that he would be interested to know if facial recognition was being used in Scottish prisons, like it is currently at a handful in England and Wales.  

The commissioner told PublicTechnology sister publication Holyrood: “Scotland will become the first country in the world to have a statutory Code of Practice on the use of biometric data and technologies for policing and criminal justice purposes. This will be a significant human rights achievement for Scotland. The benefit to policing is that the Code addresses current gaps in legislation and provides a ‘statutory guide and framework for professional self-assessment and decision-making’ by the bodies to whom the Code applies to assist them in current and future decisions around the adoption of new and emerging biometric applications and technologies. This would include for example issues such as mobile biometric solutions which have not yet been introduced in Scotland.”


Sam Trendall

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