Scotland leads way on biometric data

August 17, 2022


Scotland is set to lead the way by becoming the first country in the world to adopt a statutory code of practice on the use of biometric data and technology in policing and the criminal justice system.
The new set of rules are set to go before the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood on September 7 and to become law on November 16.
The country’s first Biometrics Commissioner, Dr Brian Plastow, who was appointed in March last year, said the new framework seeks to “support and promote the adoption of lawful, effective, and ethical practices”.
He added: “The benefits to policing is that the code addresses current gaps in legislation and provides a ‘statutory guide and framework for professional self-assessment and decision-making’ by the bodies to whom the code applies to assist them in current and future decisions around the adoption of new and emerging biometric applications and technologies.
“This would include, for example, issues such as mobile biometric solutions which have not yet been introduced in Scotland.”
Dr Plastow, previously lead inspector for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland, said a features of the legislative framework in Scotland is the definition of ‘biometric data’.
That profile adopted within the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Act is much broader than the rest of the UK (where the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 covers only DNA and fingerprints).
He added: “In Scotland, my functions extend to independent oversight of the use of fingerprints, DNA, photographs and other images or recordings for policing and criminal justice purposes and also to the source biological materials from which a biometric data record can be created,” he said.
“Another unique feature of the legal framework in Scotland is that the legislation made provision for the introduction of a statutory code of practice in Scotland, backed by a public complaints mechanism for data subjects, and the power to require information to ensure compliance with the code.
Dr Plastow said: “In April 2021, I received the consent of Scottish ministers to lay the draft code before the Scottish Parliament.
“The draft code was then approved by the Scottish Parliament without amendment, and the Criminal Justice Committee also called on Scottish ministers to consider expansion of my remit in Scotland to include other areas of the criminal justice portfolio, such as prisons.”

According to a report in Police Profssional, Dr Plastow said he has now received consent from Scottish ministers for the draft code to be brought into effect without amendment under section 12 of the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Act 2020.

The role of Scottish Biometrics Commissioner was created under the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Act 2020. Dr Plastow, who retired from policing in 2013 following a 30-year career with Lothian and Borders Police, Fife Constabulary and Police Scotland, was appointed to newly-created post for a fixed term of eight years.

Prof Fraser Sampson, the UK Government’s biometrics and surveillance commissioner, said: “I’m on Brian’s Advisory Board and believe there are many things we can learn from the Scottish approach to biometrics.  For example, including facial images and other ‘new’ metrics in the definition of biometrics rather than limiting the focus to DNA and fingerprints which looks increasingly outdated. 

“Against this background, a comprehensive code of practice for policing seems to offer a coherent and pragmatic approach to what is an increasingly important subject for both the police and the citizen.”


Biometrics are body measurements and calculations related to human characteristics. Biometric authentication (or realistic authentication) is used in computer science as a form of identification and access control. It is also used to identify individuals in groups that are under surveillance.

Biometric identifiers are often categorized as physiological characteristics, which are related to the shape of the body.


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