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World first as Scotland introduces biometric data Code of Practice

The Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Dr Brian Plastow believes this Code 'promotes good practice, transparency and accountability' by setting out standards for professional decision-making.

A Code of Practice governing the use of DNA and other biometric data in the criminal justice sector has come into effect in Scotland, after being drawn up by the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner (SBC) in a world first.

The Code is designed to set out "an agreed framework of standards" for decision-making when it comes to the acquisition, retention, use and destruction of biometric data in the country.

It has been produced by the SBC, Dr Brian Plastow, who was appointed in 2020 after the Scottish Parliament passed legislation to create the post.

Dr Plastow believes the Code, which was drawn up after extensive consultation across the criminal justice sector, should "enhance confidence in our criminal justice system".

He said: "From today [November 16], Scotland is 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.

“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."

Approved by Scotland's Criminal Justice Committee, the Code is defined by 12 principles and ethical considerations with must be adhered to by Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority and Police Investigations and Review Commissioner.

Alongside principles relating to legality, necessity and proportionality, the guidance on ethical behaviour outlines that staff working with biometric data "should be familiar with the concept of unconscious or confirmation bias".

Moreover, the principle relating to respecting human rights details "a presumption in favour of deletion" following the expiry of any minimum retention period, with the Code also applying to those who are deceased.

Notably, a new mechanism has been included to allow complaints of non-compliance with the Code to be made to the SBC.

Other principles relate to encouraging technological advancement and promoting privacy, the latter of which mandates that the SBC must be notified when organizations subject to the Code are involved in data breaches which involve the loss of biometric data.

Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans Keith Brown said the Code "symbolises Scotland’s progressive approach to biometrics".

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