Commissioners statement on biometric enabled public space surveillance in Scotland
On 23 February 2023, a motion about the reach of Chinese state surveillance in Scotland (S6M-07832) was laid in Parliament by Alex Cole-Hamilton, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. The motion engaged with matters of UK national security and data protection within the reserved powers of Westminster. The motion calls for the Scottish and UK governments to undertake a review. The motion also referenced use by Police Scotland and local authorities in Scotland of cameras made by Hikvision (see my separate entry on my recent meeting with Hikvision).
Public space surveillance by local authorities in Scotland does not fall within my statutory remit. However, in previous submissions to the Parliament I have highlighted that Scotland does not have a coherent public space surveillance strategy, and because Scotland does not have a surveillance camera commissioner the only independent oversight in Scotland therefore is by the UK Information Commissioner (ICO) on matters of UK data protection law. For that reason, I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Community Safety Elena Whitham MSP that the Scottish Government will now conduct such a review. Currently, only the output from local authority public space surveillance when delivered to Police Scotland, the SPA, or PIRC falls within the legal safeguards of the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Act 2020, and the statutory Code of Practice.
I would therefore encourage Scottish Government as part of its promised review, to give serious consideration to a public space surveillance Code of Practice in Scotland that also addresses human rights and ethical considerations, and to ensure that procurement processes and ethical supply chains similarly come under an independent oversight regime in Scotland.
More broadly, I condemn completely all human rights abuses that are perpetuated or facilitated by biometric enabled surveillance technologies be that in Scotland, the UK, the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in China, in the illegal war in Ukraine perpetuated by Putin, or anywhere else in the world. As an independent officeholder appointed by the Parliament, and as former senior police officer, I balance that view with support for the rule of law and the principles of natural justice.
In a policing context, the Code of Ethics for Policing in Scotland sets out the standards of those who contribute to policing in Scotland and on human rights the Code states ‘I will not encourage, instigate, or tolerate any act of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment under any circumstance. Nor will I stand by and allow others to do the same’. In my view, the Code of Ethics for Policing in Scotland alone should cause Police Scotland (and others) to immediately review the rights and risks of their biometric enable surveillance architecture, and those of their key partners, and to deeply consider the legal and ethical standing of dealing with companies where it has been established that they, or those involved in their supply chains are involved in perpetuating or facilitating human rights abuses anywhere in the world.