Additional powers to keep personal data safe and protect privacy should be given to the proposed Scottish Biometrics Commissioner, a Holyrood committee reports today.

The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee is backing the general principles of the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill, which will create the office of the Commissioner, and establish a code of practice for the use of biometrics by the police. 

Biometrics, a rapidly changing field, covers any form of physical data about an individual, from fingerprint and DNA samples to data deriving from CCTV and other security monitoring, such as facial recognition and facial search technology, gait and movement recognition technology, eye/retinal identification, and voice recognition software as well as data from social media.

The bill follows the recommendations of the expert advisory group chaired by solicitor advocate John Scott QC. MSPs on the committee concluded that a Commissioner to look after biometric personal information was both timely and necessary. 

As the bill stands, however, the Commissioner would only have oversight of Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority. The MSPs call for the bill to be strengthened and for the Commissioner also to have oversight of biometric data used and held by other policing bodies operating in Scotland, such as the British Transport Police and the National Crime Agency. 

They also want the Commissioner to have greater enforcement powers to ensure compliance with the code of practice.

The committee voiced support for the Commissioner’s role to be flexible, to allow them to adapt to new forms of biometric data which are not yet considered or used by the police.

Committee convener Margaret Mitchell MSP commented: “Identifying criminals and keeping society safe is at the core of what the police do. Biometric data can be a great help achieving both these objectives. However its collection and use must be proportionate, and properly checked.

“As technology advances at lightning pace and ever more information becomes available to the police, the need for this Commissioner to ensure that public and human rights concerns are kept to the fore becomes ever more pressing.”

She added: “To ensure the Commissioner has the necessary teeth and oversight to protect privacy effectively, the committee wants to see stronger enforcement powers and other policing bodies added to the Commissioner’s remit before their office is created.

“The committee also wants the principles of protecting human rights, privacy, and delivering community safety to be enshrined in the bill, and to underpin any use of biometric data by police.”

Click here to view the committee's report.