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Privacy Groups Want Greater Scope for New Biometrics Commissioner

Ross Kelly

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Biometrics

Privacy campaigners are calling on the Scottish Government to expand the scope of proposed Biometrics Commissioner. 

In an open letter penned to Scotland’s Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf, Open Rights Group, Amnesty International Scotland and Big Brother Watch have called for the Commissioner to apply to public bodies and private bodies using biometric technologies on Scottish citizens.

The Biometrics Commissioner Bill is currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee. The bill would see the creation of a commissioner to oversee and monitor the collection, use and retention of biometrics by law enforcement.

While the rights groups have welcomed the introduction of the bill and the proposed creation of the Commissioner, they are urging Holyrood to go further and take into account ethical and moral considerations.

“The debate about the proportionate and ethical use of biometrics is occurring in multiple sectors and the focus on the collection, retention, use and deletion of biometric solely in law enforcement is blind to the realities of the use of biometrics today,” the letter said.

“Biometrics are being used in the fields of health and social care, immigration and asylum, even education. Each of these applications raises separate questions of rights, morals and ethics,” it added.

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Concerns have been raised over recent deployments of facial recognition systems in London at a King’s Cross development. Similarly, the rights groups also highlighted the use of facial recognition tech at schools in Sweden as examples of other sectors adopting biometrics.

Matthew Rice, Scotland director at Open Rights Group, said that the Scottish Government has an opportunity to “lead the governance” of emerging technologies during a period of heightened public concern.

“Scotland deserves modern, effective institutions that are in a position to respond to today’s challenges and remain in a position to meet tomorrows,” he said. “Biometrics has applications far beyond law enforcement and sectors are already adopting these technologies in their operations.

“This is an opportunity for Scotland to lead the governance of biometrics at a time when the issue raises a great deal of public concern. We hope the Scottish Government seizes that opportunity and meets the public’s clear need for stronger governance in this area.”

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The next evidence session for the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill will take place on the 1st of October. Matthew Rice is expected to provide evidence at the session.

Earlier this month, Big Brother Watch was joined by several MPs and more than 25 privacy rights, race equality and technology groups in a call to immediately halt the deployment of facial recognition systems.

MPs supporting the call to action include former UK Government minister David Davis, Shadow Home Secretary Dianne Abbot and Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson.

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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