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  • Philip Osadebay - Tech Journalist

Scotland releases first Code of Practice for use of biometric data

The use of biometric data including faces, fingerprints, voices, DNA profiles and other body-related measurements is becoming increasingly common in new technologies, especially facial recognition technologies. However, these programs have led to civil rights challenges and condemnation from human rights groups, who say that emerging technology's is often flawed and biased.

From today, Scotland is the first country in the world to have a national code of practice which provides guidance to the police on the use of biometrics and related forensic techniques. Scotland publishes a code of practice for the ethical use of DNA and other biometric data. The code of conduct, which came into effect on Wednesday 16 November, guides police on how to ethically use biometric data and related crime-fighting technologies in criminal justice situations.

The Scottish Framework aims to address these issues by setting out 12 principles and ethical considerations of how biometric data can be obtained, stored, used and destroyed in criminal justice and law enforcement scenarios. These ethical considerations include equality, legal authority, ethics, privacy, respect for human rights, and advances in science and technology.

The Scottish Police Service and the Police Investigation and Review Commissioner must comply with the laid out guidelines and rules which also include an appeal mechanism and enforcement powers. Such significant human rights achievements in Scotland is something the country should be proud of.

Setting A National Code of Practice

By setting a national code of practice, it promotes setting standards for professional decision-making, transparency and accountability, good practice, and aligning the needs and responsibilities of policing with important human rights safeguards. Its full implementation would increase the confidence in their criminal justice system.

Biometrics in the use of data and technology by the police has grown rapidly in recent years, it is all the more important why Scotland had to build an independent commissioner to raise public awareness of rights, responsibilities and standards. It is necessary to promote a clear understanding of issues in communities especially for both the young and vulnerable people.

The Criminal Law Committee of the Scottish Parliament approved the national code without amendment and the provisions were enacted into law. Although the guidance is unique to Scotland, the code is consistent with the rest of the frameworks being developed in the UK.

Earlier this year, there was an independent review of UK law commissioned by the Ada Lovelace Institute. They called on the government to legislate and regulate biometric technologies after the current legislation was unclear.

The UK Government's Biometrics and CCTV Commissioner expressed similar concerns and called for a clear, comprehensive and consistent framework to ensure appropriate regulation and accountability in the use of CCTV and biometrics in England and Wales.

Up until recently, biometric technologies were used almost exclusively in police work. The Metropolitan Police and South Wales Police are some of the forces known to use these techniques. However, a growing number of private and public organisations, including employers, schools and stores, are now using them to conduct video interviews, alert staff to theft and verify student identities.


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