Chief Inspector of Prisons ‘would be happy to monitor’ use of biometric technology

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Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons would ‘welcome oversight’ from the Biometrics Commissioner over the biometrics data and technology used in Scottish prisons.

According to a letter written by Biometrics Commissioner Dr Brian Plastow to Criminal Justice Committee Coordinator Audrey Nicoll MSP, Wendy Sinclair-Gieben told her she would welcome her independent oversight if approved by ministers .

Sinclair-Gieben cited the specialist nature of the subject and human rights considerations when suggesting that the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner oversee potential new technologies in prisons.

At present, there is no overall independent oversight of how biometric data and technology is used in Scottish prisons, apart from the Information Commissioner’s Office, which looks after Data Protection, and the Office of the Commissioner for Investigative Powers, which oversees covert surveillance.

Plastow would like to know if, like some English and Welsh prisons, Scottish prisons currently use live facial recognition technology and other biometric measures.

In some prisons south of the border, such technology is used to verify the identity of visitors, to help manage excluded individuals, and to help prevent the smuggling of drugs and other contraband into the grounds. prison.

The UK government revealed in 2019 that it had successfully trialled new facial recognition technology at HMP Hull, Humber and Lindholme that enabled prison staff to identify visitors using document validation-based apps , iris scanning and facial recognition software.

In his letter to the head of the Criminal Justice Committee, Plastow said: ‘There is also an emerging trend in prisons in other UK jurisdictions where live facial recognition technology and other biometrics are being deployed to verify the identity of visitors, to help manage the excluded. people and to help prevent the smuggling of drugs and other contraband into prisons. It would be interesting for the Committee to know whether such technologies are currently being deployed in Scottish prisons.

“From a recent discussion with the Chief Inspector of Prisons in Scotland, Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, I can confirm that with the exception of oversight by the ICO on data protection issues and by IPCO on covert surveillance, there is no overall independent oversight of how biometric data and technology is openly used in Scottish prisons Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector informs me that ‘She would appreciate the oversight of my office if approved by Scottish ministers, given both the nature of the specialist subject matter and the human rights considerations that flow from it.

“I therefore agree with the view expressed by the committee that it would be appropriate for Ministers to consider whether biometric data and technology used in Scottish prisons should fall within the mandate and functions of the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner and the code of practice. If Scottish Ministers wish to explore this possibility in more detail, I would be more than happy to engage with representatives of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service to carry out an initial joint feasibility study.

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