Scottish guidelines on police use of biometrics take effect

Move to introduce code of practice for the likes of facial recognition and fingerprints is believed to be a world first

Credit: Stefan Schweihofer/Pixabay

A code of practice to govern the use of biometric data and DNA in the criminal justice system has come into effect in Scotland this week. 

The code – which is claimed to be the first of its kind in the world – sets out how biometric data can be acquired, retained, used and destroyed for criminal justice and policing purposes. Biometric data encompasses personal information derived from DNA, fingerprints, iris scans, voice profiles, and facial recognition.

The new code, which includes a complaints mechanism and powers of enforcement to ensure compliance,  is underpinned by 12 principles and ethical considerations which must be adhered to by Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority, and the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner. They include equality, lawful authority, ethics, privacy, respect for human rights and encouragement of scientific and technological advances.

Dr Brian Plastow, Scotland’s Biometric Commissioner, consulted across the criminal justice sector while drawing up the framework. He claimed it is a significant human rights achievement for Scotland and will improve public confidence and trust. Scottish Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee approved the code without amendment.  

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Plastow’s office is currently conducting two examinations of biometrics in two distinct areas. The first, in partnership with the Scottish Police Authority and Children’s Centre for Youth Justice, is an assurance review of the capture of biometric data from children. The second is an assurance review relating to the capture of biometric data from vulnerable people who require the support of an appropriate adult to help them understand what is happening to them in police custody settings, and why.

Plastow said: “It is important to strike the right balance between allowing Police Scotland to do what is required to keep people safe and to protect the human rights of the public. Scotland is the first country in the world to have a national code of practice which gives guidance to the police on how biometric data and related forensic technologies can be used. It promotes good practice, transparency and accountability by setting out standards for professional decision-making while matching the needs and responsibilities of policing with important human rights safeguards. Its implementation should enhance confidence in our criminal justice system.”


Sam Trendall

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