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Scottish Parliament launches inquiry on police use of facial recognition

The circumstances and implications of the technology’s application in the police service will be investigated in the coming months

Scottish MSPs will question the police’s use of facial recognition technology under an inquiry launched on Friday 4 October.

Holyrood’s Justice Sub-Committee on Policing will investigate the police’s future plans for the technology as well as seeking more details about its current use.

The Scottish Parliament is not fully certain about the current method used by the police for facial recognition. It understands that Police Scotland currently uses material from recorded CCTV, which is then matched against the Police National Database. This type of facial recognition is defined as retrospective, rather than live images, which can come from equipment such as body-worn cameras or mobile phones.

MSPs also want to clarify whether other organisations, such as the British Transport Police or the National Crime Agency, use that type of technology in Scotland.

“The sub-committee wants to be reassured that police services are striking the right balance when using this technology,” said John Finnie, MSP, when launching the inquiry and a call for views. “We have a number of concerns we look forward to exploring further in the months ahead.”

Areas that will be investigated in the inquiry will include the data protection, security and retention requirements, as well as the oversight, governance and transparency of Police Scotland’s use of facial recognition technology.

Police Scotland’s 10-year strategy, Policing 2026, includes a proposal to introduce facial recognition technology as part of a wider suite of current and developing biometric tools that it plans to explore.

According to the sub-committee, Police Scotland said it would await developments around the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill – currently being scrutinised by the Justice Committee – before starting to use facial recognition software.

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