Statement by Scottish Biometrics Commissioner
Statement by Scottish Biometrics Commissioner on the public space surveillance infrastructure in Scotland.
Scottish Parliament Motion number S6M-07832
On Thursday 23 February 2023, Motion number S6M-07832 is due to be heard in the Scottish Parliament. The motion lodged by Alex Cole-Hamilton Edinburgh Western, Scottish Liberal Democrats, calls for a comprehensive investigation into the reach of Chinese surveillance in Scotland.
Whilst the motion is primarily about matters of UK national security, one aspect relates to the public space surveillance infrastructure in Scotland. Because Scotland does not have a surveillance camera commissioner, the motion references commentary from the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera for England and Wales, who also has a broader UK wide role specifically where biometric data is retained (including in Scotland) as part of a National Security Determination (NSD).
During the parliamentary procedure leading up to the introduction of the Scottish Code of Practice on biometric data, and specifically in my evidence session to the Criminal Justice Committee on 15 June 2022, I highlighted the large surveillance landscape in Scotland and why the absence of independent oversight (my functions extend solely to Police Scotland, the SPA, and PIRC) might be problematic.
In my written correspondence of 27 June 2022, I also suggested that:
‘The first step in determining the most appropriate oversight mechanisms for public space CCTV surveillance in Scotland would be the redevelopment of a coherent national strategy. In doing so, it should be recognised that many of the public’s concerns about the expansion in state surveillance are not simply about data protection, they are also about broader questions of public confidence and trust. Therefore, regardless of the legal basis for doing so, the acid test for any Scottish framework for overt surveillance technology has to be the extent to which the affected community is prepared to support it and accept it.’
Touching on future opportunities to extend the functions of the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner, I also concluded:
‘It may be that as part of that work that a political appetite emerges for appropriate public oversight and regulation beyond that already provided by the ICO, potentially including a Scottish Surveillance Camera Code of Practice.’
I trust that the foregoing information may be of assistance to the Parliament in considering this motion.
Dr Brian Plastow
Scottish Biometrics Commissioner