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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
16 November 2022
World first for Scotland in the use of biometric data and DNA

Police use an electronic machine that reads and analyses finger prints | Alamy

World first for Scotland in the use of biometric data and DNA

The world’s first Code of Practice (CoP) that will govern the use of biometric data and DNA in criminal justice comes into effect in Scotland today.  

The code sets out how biometric data can be acquired, retained, used and destroyed for criminal justice and policing purposes. It also includes a complaints mechanism and powers of enforcement to ensure compliance.

It is underpinned by 12 principles and ethical considerations to which Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority and Police Investigations and Review Commissioner must adhere. They include equality, lawful authority, ethics, privacy, respect for human rights and encouragement of scientific and technological advances.

Dr Brian Plastow, Scotland’s Biometric Commissioner, consulted across the criminal justice sector while drawing up the framework for the CoP. He believes it is a significant human rights achievement for Scotland and will improve public confidence and trust. Unique to Scotland, the code will sit alongside frameworks in development throughout the rest of the UK. The Criminal Justice Committee approved the CoP without amendment.  

Plastow’s office is currently conducting two examinations of biometrics in two distinct areas. The first, in partnership with the Scottish Police Authority and Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice, is an assurance review of the capture of biometric data from children. The second is an assurance review relating to the capture of biometric data from vulnerable people who require the support of an appropriate adult to help them understand what is happening to them in police custody settings, and why.

Speaking on the CoP coming into practice today, Plastow said: “It is important to strike the right balance between allowing Police Scotland to do what is required to keep people safe and to protect the human rights of the public.

“From today, Scotland is the first country in the world to have a national code of practice which gives guidance to the police on how biometric data and related forensic technologies can be used.  

“It promotes good practice, transparency and accountability by setting out standards for professional decision-making while matching the needs and responsibilities of policing with important human rights safeguards. Its implementation should enhance confidence in our criminal justice system.”

Cabinet secretary for justice and veterans Keith Brown said: “Given the rapid increase in police use of biometric data and technologies in recent years, it is all the more important that we have an independent commissioner who will raise public awareness about rights, responsibilities and standards.

“It is vital that we promote a clearer understanding of these issues in our communities – especially for young and vulnerable people.  
“The Code of Practice prepared by the Commissioner symbolises Scotland’s progressive approach to biometrics, particularly in policing and criminal justice. I endorse the new code and support the Commissioner’s endeavours to promote high standards, transparency and accountability.”

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