Getting the right Biometrics Commissioner for Scotland


The field of biometrics is changing rapidly. No longer limited to DNA and fingerprints, technologies like facial, iris and gait recognition are making yesterday’s rules obsolete. Scotland needs an independent body to keep pace.

In response to the Scottish Government's proposal to create a new Biometrics Commissioner, dozens of ORG supporters in Scotland submitted their views during a public comment period in September. ORG's official response (which you can read here) included the following points:

• Scotland needs a biometrics commissioner. Unlike England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, Scotland is missing an independent body to oversee everchanging biometric techniques, while also protecting the right to privacy.

• Assess the wider impact of biometrics. The commissioner, while beginning at oversight of Police and justice use of biometrics, must extend to every aspect of public life touched by biometrics including education, health sector, workplaces, schools and public offices. A report looking into these other areas should be one of the first pieces of work for the Commissioner to undertake.

 Cover all biometrics. Scotland needs a general definition of biometrics covered by a new code of practice to address emerging technologies like facial and iris recognition. Regulating specific biometric attributes quickly falls short when new technologies are introduced.

• Establish an automatic presumption of deletion. Ordinary citizens must not be treated like criminals. There should be a presumption of automatic deletion of records held by Police when statutory retention periods are met.

• Establish in primary legislation. The biometrics commissioner’s powers, the definition of biometrics, and the presumption of automatic deletion should all be codified in primary legislation. This will convey legitimacy and provide the opportunity for proper debate and scrutiny.

Please watch this space as we'll continue to bring you the latest on this push to build this much needed modern institution to Scotland. For more background see ORG's recent blogs and the explainer video below:

The future of surveillance oversight needs YOU! by Scotland Director Matthew Rice

The Generation Game: Defining Biometrics by Scotland Director Matthew Rice

Building which future? Reaction to the proposed Scottish Biometrics Commissioner by Scotland Director Matthew Rice

One more step towards a Scottish Biometrics Commissioner by Scotland Director Matthew Rice