Scottish Biometrics Commissioner calls for “distinct policies” on the capture of biometric data from children by Police Scotland
Police Scotland has been commended for its handling of biometric data belonging to children and vulnerable adults.
The reviews carried out by the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner (SBC) Dr Brian Plastow, supported by the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) and, in the one relating to those aged 12-17 years, by The Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice (CYCJ), found Police Scotland’s strategic approach to keeping children and vulnerable adults who offend out of custody to be “strong” and praised the approach to safeguarding the protected groups’ captured biometric data when there has been no alternative police custody.
But Dr Plastow's reviews have recommended the implementation of “distinct policies, procedures and practices” around the capture of biometric data from children, which can only be authorised by a senior officer. It also suggested that everyone who has their biometric data captured as a result of being arrested in Scotland, including children and vulnerable adults, be better informed about the purposes for which their data will be used.
The 4,150 custody episodes relating to children and 1,880 to vulnerable people last year were supported in custody by an appropriate adult. Dr Plastow’s findings also revealed that while the number of children who came into contact with the police was small, a significant amount of biometric data was taken and held in the criminal justice system.
Police Scotland is required to set out how it proposes to respond to the recommendations by 30 June, following a meeting earlier that month with the SPA’s Policing Performance Committee where the SBC will present his findings.
Dr Plastow said: “Police Scotland’s overall strategic approach to working in partnership to keep children and vulnerable adults who offend out of custody is strong, as is their approach to safeguarding those children and vulnerable adults who have their biometrics captured when there are no alternatives to police custody.
“However, Police Scotland also needs to better uphold the information rights of all people who have their biometric data captured either as a result of being arrested, or when such data is given voluntarily by victims of crime to assist police investigations.
“We found those working in the custody environment were knowledgeable about policies and procedures relating to the care and welfare of children and vulnerable adults and the reports have taken account of best practice, highlighted what was working well and promoted a standardised, considerate approach to the way forward.”
The SBC also believes that the age of criminality is too low after it was raised from eight to 12 in 2021.
He said: “I would welcome policy initiatives to divert those under 18 years of age out of the adult system. This would provide the lever through which to avoid capturing biometric data from children, except in the most serious of crime types.”
Chair of the SPA Martyn Evans said: “I am very pleased to have assisted the Biometrics Commissioner in this important piece of work. This first joint review between us is another demonstration of our approach to policing in the public interest.
“Police Scotland and the Authority have been clear that police custody is not a place of safety for children.
“In those unavoidable situations where custody is necessary, it is important that officers and staff are given clear guidance on when it is absolutely necessary to gather biometric data and how long to retain it, taking into account the best interests of the child and gravity of the offence.
“It was important that our review examined the first-person insights of young people with direct experiences of the criminal justice system, as well as officers and staff.”
CYCJ director Fiona Dyer said: “We were pleased to contribute on such an important issue. Yet again it highlights another area of our justice system that children do not understand or know what their rights are.