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MSPs to Vote on DNA and Fingerprint Data Storage Law

David Paul

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Biometrics facial recognition technology

The third round of debate on the issue is taking place in the Scottish parliament today (Tuesday 10th of March)

The Scottish government is scrutinising the way in which the Scottish police force stores people’s DNA and fingerprint data following privacy concerns.

A new law will be voted on to determine how biometric data is stored and controlled, and how police deal with people’s personal information, including DNA, facial images and fingerprints.

In January 2020 Police Scotland announced it would begin using facial recognition cameras to help tackle “serious crime”. There have been grave concerns over not only the accuracy of the technology, but also the legality of its use.

Nick Ephgrave, the Met’s assistant commissioner, said at the time that police were making the live facial recognition tech “operational” following ten trials across the capital.

“This is an important development for the Met and one which is vital in assisting us in bearing down on violence,” he said.

“As a modern police force, I believe that we have a duty to use new technologies to keep people safe in London. We are using a tried-and-tested technology and have taken a considered and transparent approach in order to arrive at this point.”

Since this announcement, the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing has said that the current technology is ‘not fit for use’ by Scottish Police forces. A report stated that the technology could not be used until “certain safeguards have been introduced” to protect the privacy of members of the public.

The Scottish parliament are debating the bill, which aims to give greater oversight of how the police take, store, use and dispose of data such as DNA samples, fingerprints and facial recognition images.

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In his address to parliament during stage one of the bill, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf, said: “The Scottish Government recognised the need for transparency and accountability in how biometric data is used in the context of policing and criminal justice, and the importance of those issues to building and maintaining public trust.

“We live in times of rapid technological change, in which new biometric techniques continue to develop and evolve. Scientific innovation in policing has the capacity to make us safer, but it also raises pertinent questions about ethics, lawfulness and privacy. Therefore, we should recognise that public confidence requires that fundamental rights and the rule of law are not only respected but, importantly, seen to be respected.

“With that in mind, the bill creates an independent commissioner to ensure that the approach to biometric data is effective, lawful and ethical, and to ensure that an appropriate balance is struck between keeping communities safe, respecting the rights of the individual and improving the accountability of the police.”

The bill is being discussed later this afternoon. Updates to follow.

Update

The new Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill has been voted unanimously by 110 to 0 in the Scottish Parliament chamber. Tory MSP Liam Kerr commented that the role of commissioner is important and the bill intends to increase public trust in the use of biometric data.

Kerr stressed the importance of providing the “adequate resources” and the need for a robust code of practice to allow full scrutiny.

Green MSP John Finnie praised the new bill, saying: “The Scottish public is under heavy surveillance and it’s very important that we get things right.”

Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur, said that a robust framework on biometric data use must be in place, and that the bill gets us much of the way there he concludes.

David Paul

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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