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Biometrics commissioner will ‘give public confidence’

Humza Yousaf said the role would oversee how biometric information is used in the criminal justice system and by police.

A biometrics commissioner will give the public confidence that use of their data is “lawful and ethical”, the justice secretary has said.

Addressing the Scottish Parliament about plans to create an independent commissioner, Humza Yousaf said the role would oversee how biometric information is used in the criminal justice system and by police.

The general principles of the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill received unanimous backing from MSPs following the stage one debate on Thursday afternoon.

Biometric data on physical characteristics can be used to identify and verify a person by, for example, their fingerprints and retinas.

Mr Yousaf said the proposed legislation to create a commissioner will need to strike a balance “between keeping communities safe, respecting the rights of the individual and improving the accountability of the police”.

Speaking of the need for the new role, Mr Yousaf said: “Given the explosion in biometric data and technologies in recent years, it is all the more important that we have an independent commissioner who will lead a national conversation about rights, responsibilities and standards.”

If the Bill becomes law, the biometrics commissioner would “support and promote the adoption of lawful, ethical and effective practices in relation to collection, use, retention and disposal of biometric data in the context of policing and criminal justice”, Mr Yousaf told MSPs.

He said the commissioner would write a code of practice to cover the use of biometric data and have the power to “name and shame” organisations who fail to adhere to the code or refuse to provide information.

Mr Yousaf stopped short of endorsing changes that would give the commissioner power to enforce the rules.

Holyrood’s Justice Committee backed the proposals at the Bill’s first stage in December and Mr Yousaf has pledged to introduce amendments to include the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) in the legislation.

Furthermore, Mr Yousaf said he was “actively considering the inclusion of cross-border devolved policing bodies such as the British Transport Police, the Ministry of Defence Police, and the National Crime Agency”.

Responding to the statement, Scottish Conservative MSP Liam Kerr said: “We will support the principles at stage one and I look forward to cross-party collaborative work going forward to drive improvements into the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill.”

Scottish Labour MSP James Kelly said: “We welcome the general principles of the Bill, it’s very important that we have a biometric commissioner who’s independent.

“I think there are issues that have come out in the Justice Committee’s report around the scope of the commissioner’s role, the powers that they have and access, and I hope the Cabinet Secretary takes on board some of the views that have already been expressed.

“I’m sure if there aren’t appropriate changes ahead of stage two, members across the chamber will bring forward amendments to seek to strengthen this Bill to make it more effective and more robust.”

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