Scotland told to appoint biometrics commissioner
27 January 2016 14:27 GMT

Scotland’s official police watchdog has called for an independent commissioner to be appointed who oversees how the country’s police force uses fingerprints, DNA and facial data.

The watchdog, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland, has asked the government to create the post for “truly independent oversight” in use of biometrics data.

Following opposition requests, the body has released a report into the Facial Search functionality within the UK Police National Database.

While praising biometrics use in crime enforcement, particularity the successful use of hand and vein patterns by Professor Sue Black of Dundee University, the HMICS said more oversight was needed given privacy and autonomy issues.

“The Scottish Government should work with Police Scotland, the SPA [Scottish Police Authority], COPFS [Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service] and other interested parties to consider the establishment of an independent Scottish Commissioner to address the issues of ethical and independent oversight over biometric databases and records held in Scotland”, writes the HMICS in the report.

The body also said the Scottish Government should work with Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority to consider legislative provision in relation to the retention and use of photographic images by the police.

It adds that Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority should consult with the Scottish government and other stakeholders on the potential development of a statutory Code of Practice for the use of biometric data in Scotland.

The report adds: “there is a significant body of evidence to suggest there are opportunities for improvements in the legislation and regulation of how photographic images and facial search technologies are used by the police throughout the United Kingdom”

The review was launched last November after Police Scotland used controversial facial recognition technology in a bid to identify images of people caught on CCTV, mobile phones or uniform-mounted cameras.

In May, the Scottish Lib Dems had used Freedom of Information laws to reveal the extent of Police Scotland's use of facial recognition technology and warned it could lead to "mass surveillance" of anyone captured on CCTV.

A month earlier, Liberal Democrat MSP Alison McInnes queried the country’s police department budgeting £725,000 (US$1.06 mn) to help support a national facial recognition database.

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