Subscribe to Holyrood updates

Newsletter sign-up


Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine


Subscribe to Holyrood
27 January 2016
Exclusive: Watchdog calls for commissioner to oversee Police Scotland use of biometric data

Exclusive: Watchdog calls for commissioner to oversee Police Scotland use of biometric data

An independent commissioner should be appointed to oversee Police Scotland’s use of fingerprints, DNA and photographs of people taken into custody, according to the official police watchdog.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) will today urge ministers to create the post in order to deliver “truly independent oversight” of police use of biometrics data.

Inspectors will also call on the Scottish Government to “close a potential legislative gap” by bringing forward legislation to govern the retention and use of photographs taken from people who are arrested by Scotland’s single force and taken into police custody.

Current legislation around retention only extends to fingerprints and DNA and is being voluntarily applied to photographic images by Police Scotland, HMICS found. A statutory code of practice on the everyday use of biometric data in Scotland is also recommended by inspectors, akin to frameworks previously called for to cover the likes of stop and search.

In its report, which will be published later this morning, the watchdog concludes that Police Scotland’s use of software allowing UK forces to search mugshots – including images of people not yet convicted – and to check against CCTV records or other images obtained by police has been “proportionate and necessary”.     

Inspectors reviewed each and every one of the 567 facial searches conducted by Police Scotland using the UK Police National Database (PND) over a 16-month period, declaring all uses to have been “lawful, proportionate and necessary”,

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson backed a review of how the technology is being used last June amid sustained pressure from the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Images of charged and convicted individuals held by Police Scotland are uploaded to the UK PND for other forces across the UK to check against, though photos are removed if the suspect is not then convicted.

However, no Scottish legislation specific to the retention and use of photographic images by the police exists, with inspectors arguing its creation would "balance the needs of law enforcement with broader human rights and ethical considerations".

The creation of a commissioner post would bring Scotland into line with England and Wales, which has had an independent biometrics commissioner for almost three years. HMICS' review hints that their remit could also extend to the use of biometric data by other public agencies, such as local councils.

HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland Derek Penman said: “New and emerging technologies will increase the value and potential of biometric data and we believe that the introduction of a code of practice overseen by a commissioner could safeguard and future proof its use.”

Holyrood Newsletters

Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox


Popular reads
Back to top