Biometrics is the measure for calculating the physical, biological, physiological or behavioural characteristics of individuals to establish or verify their identity. With the use of biometrics in crime solving, there has been a revolution in the criminal justice system. It has been accepted by every nation in this world with open hands.
But as of now, Scotland has become the first nation in the world to publish a special code that governs the use of DNA and other biometrics data in a criminal justice setting.
From 16 November 2022, Wednesday, Scotland will become 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.
The new code sets out how biometric data can be acquired, retained, used and destroyed for criminal justice and policing purposes. It includes a complaints mechanism and the power of enforcement to ensure compliance.
According to Dr. Brian Plastow, Scottish Biometrics Commissioner, concerns have been raised about the ethics of the use of intrusive technology, such as facial recognition, in biometric surveillance. Therefore, this new Code of Practice has been published.
There are 12 principles and ethical considerations written in the code to which Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority and Police Investigations and Review Commissioner must adhere. These include equality, lawful authority, ethics, privacy, respect for human rights and encouragement of scientific and technological advances.
While it is unique to Scotland, the code sits alongside frameworks which are being developed throughout the rest of the UK. It was approved by the Criminal Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament without amendment, and regulations were laid which introduced the code on a statutory basis with effect from Wednesday.
Dr. Plastow has consulted across the criminal justice sector while drawing up the framework for the Code of Practice. He believes that it is a significant human rights achievement for Scotland and will improve public confidence and trust.
He says, “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“.
He further added, “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“.
He further said, “It is vital that we promote a clearer understanding of these issues in our communities – especially for young and vulnerable people“.
Appreciating Dr. Plastow’s work, Brown said, “The Code of Practice prepared by the commissioner symbolizes 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.”
Also in the beginning of this month, Professor Fraser Sampson, the UK Government’s Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner, called for “a clear, comprehensive and coherent framework to ensure proper regulation and accountability” with regards to the use of biometrics and surveillance cameras in England and Wales.
The introduction of Code of Practice for DNA and biometrics in Scotland will give hope and inspiration to other nations to publish the same in all the countries.