Calls to expand biometrics watchdog to commercial entities

Written by Ruaraidh Gilmour on 17 February 2023 in News

Scotland’s world-first regime needs to go further, critics have claimed

Credit: Bicanski/Pixnio

Critics have called for the role of the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner to be expanded to cover all organisations across the public and private sector collecting and processing data from technologies such as facial-recognition cameras.

When the role of commissioner – and a statutory code for the use of biometric data by law enforcement and the judiciary – was introduced last year, he Scottish Government claimed that the country was the first in the world to introduce such a regime.

But Liam McArthur, a member of the Scottish Parliament and the justice spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, believes that all forms of biometric data processed by organisations should be included in the commissioner’s purview. This will encompass the likes of facial recognition technology that is used in schools, shops, supermarkets and other public places.

However, in response to a parliamentary question from McArthur, justice secretary Keith Brown said there are no plans for any expansion to take place, leaving many areas which collect biometric data outside the commissioner’s remit.  

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The code of practice that governs the use of biometric data and DNA in the criminal justice system. It sets out how biometric data can be acquired, retained, used and destroyed for criminal justice and policing purposes. It also includes a complaints mechanism and powers of enforcement to ensure compliance.  

McArthur said: “Scottish Liberal Democrats fought tooth and nail for recognition that the law on biometrics was outdated in the face of the full force of modern technology.  Biometric technologies which draw on our personal characteristics are becoming an ever-greater part of all our lives. They are emerging at an incredible rate, but we need to ensure our laws keep up and that people's rights aren't infringed. That is why we need to regulate the use of existing technologies and future-proof them to cover those systems that won't have even been invented yet. These technologies are not restricted to the police and the criminal justice system so why is the biometrics commissioner?  

“Keith Brown may be in denial about the changing pace of technology, but we are not. That’s why Scottish Liberal Democrats will continue to press the government to ensure that proper safeguards are in place and that all our biometric data is kept and used appropriately.”

About the author

Ruaraidh Gilmour is a reporter at PublicTechnology sister publication Holyrood, where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets as @Ruaraidh0.

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