Justice Committee calls for extra powers to be given to personal data tsar

09.12.2019

The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee has backed the general principles of a Bill which will create a Scottish Biometrics Commissioner, and establish a Code of Practice for the use of biometrics by the police. However, it is calling for the postholder to be given further powers to keep personal data safe and protect privacy.

MSPs on the Committee concluded that a Commissioner to look after biometric personal information, including physical, biological or behavioural identifiers, was both timely and necessary. Biometric policing techniques incorporate traditional methods such as fingerprinting, and rapidly developing, new technology, like voice pattern analysis and facial recognition.

The Committee voiced support for the Commissioner’s role to be flexible, to allow them to adapt to new forms of biometric data which are not yet considered or used by the police.

However, it is calling for the provisions of the Bill to be strengthened and for the Commissioner to also have oversight of biometric data used and held by other policing bodies operating in Scotland, such as the British Transport Police and the National Crime Agency. As things stand, the Commissioner would only have oversight of Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority.

The Committee also wants the Commissioner to have greater enforcement powers to ensure compliance with the Code of Practice.

Speaking as the report was published, Committee Convener, Margaret Mitchell MSP, said:

“Identifying criminals and keeping society safe is at the core of what the police do. Biometric data can be a great help achieving both these objectives. However its collection and use must be proportionate, and properly checked.

“As technology advances at lightening pace and ever more information becomes available to the police, the need for this Commissioner to ensure that public and human rights concerns are kept to the fore becomes ever more pressing.

“While Members welcome the creation of a Biometrics Commissioner, the Committee has identified some important areas where the legislation needs to be strengthened.

“To ensure the Commissioner has the necessary teeth and oversight to protect privacy effectively, the Committee wants to see stronger enforcement powers and other policing bodies added to Commissioner’s remit before their office is created.

“The committee also wants the principles of protecting human rights, privacy, and delivering community safety to be enshrined in the Bill, and to underpin any use of biometric data by police.”

Background

The full report can be downloaded here, and background to the Committee’s scrutiny of this Bill can be found at this link.

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