Scotland’s Biometrics Data Commissioner is asking the Criminal Justice Committee for more oversight over the country’s prisons. Commissioner Brian Plastow is specifically interested in the use of facial recognition technology in prisons, and claimed that the Chief Inspector of Prisons is aware of his proposal and has already signed off on the idea.
The problem, according to Plastow, is that there is currently no Scottish regulatory body tasked with monitoring the use of facial recognition in prison facilities. The Information Commissioner’s Office and the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office have some limited regulatory authority, but both are UK agencies rather than Scottish ones and both have extremely broad portfolios that spread across multiple sectors. As a result, there is no dedicated agency with any unique insight into the Scottish prison system.
Plastow believes that his office is well positioned to fill that void. He wants the Criminal Justice Committee to designate his office as an independent oversight body, and give him the authority to delve deeper into prison facial recognition tech.
On that front, it is worth noting that facial recognition goes well beyond the surveillance of prisoners. English administrators have been using face and iris biometrics to identify visitors at prisons in Hull, Humber and Lindholme since 2019, and Plastow wants to know if similar technologies have been deployed anywhere in Scotland. He also noted that facial recognition has been used to try to prevent the smuggling of contraband, and to help manage certain excluded individuals.
As it stands, there is no comprehensive record of the biometric technology that has been deployed in Scottish prisons. Plastow wants to create that list, especially since the technology raises data privacy and human rights concerns when applied to prisoners and to any visiting members of the general public.
The role of Biometrics Data Commissioner was only created in 2020. Plastow is also trying to bring a similar level of oversight to facial recognition in law enforcement.
July 7, 2022 – by Eric Weiss