Police biometric data use to be improved

New code of practice on retaining DNA, fingerprints and images.

An Independent Advisory Group on Biometric Data has recommended a series of changes to how such data is used by Police Scotland.

The group, established by Justice Secretary Michael Matheson last year and chaired by John Scott QC Solicitor Advocate, examined the acquisition, retention, use and disposal of data such as DNA, fingerprints, facial and other photographic images, and what improvements could be made to the regime governing this.

Their recommendations include:

  • Creating a new code of practice on the acquisition, retention, use and disposal of biometric data
  • Reviewing the legal rules on retention of data in the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 to consider questions of proportionality and necessity
  • Encouraging a ‘national debate’ to improve public understanding of and confidence in the use of biometric data
  • Establishing an independent Scottish Biometrics Commissioner to monitor compliance with the code.

Mr Matheson said:

Scotland’s national forensics service is widely recognised as a scientific leader, supporting Police Scotland on serious and major crime investigations to help tackle those who prey on our communities, track down perpetrators, bringing them to justice and keeping communities safe.

“While the 2016 independent report of the HM Inspector found that Police Scotland was making proportionate and necessary use of biometric data and technologies, it identified a need for improved oversight of these arrangements.

“The Scottish Government accepts the Group’s report and the thrust of its recommendations. While the creation of a new Biometrics Commissioner to monitor compliance with a new code will require careful consideration and discussions with the parliamentary authorities, it is one that we accept in principle.

“The public should continue to have confidence in how their information is held and I hope that the publication of this report will kick-start a wider debate on biometric data and how it is best used to help keep our communities safe.”

Chair of the Independent Advisory Group and human rights lawyer John Scott added:

“Just under ten years ago, the European Court of Human Rights commented with approval on the regime in Scotland for regulating the retention of DNA samples and profiles. Around the same time, the Scottish Government commissioned an independent review into the regulation of matters relating to DNA and fingerprints which led to necessary changes in the law.

“Since then, there have been continuing developments in these and other areas of biometric technologies. This review offers the opportunity to take account of these and future developments and develop a framework for the regulation of all policing aspects of biometric data, reflecting the significance of such data in policing as well as all ethical and human rights considerations.”

Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Gillian MacDonald said:

“Biometric data, particularly DNA, fingerprints and photographs, is a critical tool in the investigation and prevention of crime. We recognise the importance of ensuring that the public has trust and confidence in the procedures which govern its use.

“Any endeavour to strengthen the legislative framework and provide a balance between keeping the public safe from harm whilst ensuring the appropriate consideration of human rights and ethics is welcomed.

“Police Scotland, having been a key contributor to the work of the Biometrics Independent Advisory Group, supports all of the recommendations and will continue to play a significant part in any future work." 


Draft report by Independent Advisory Group on Biometric Data.

Scottish Government response to the group’s report.


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