THE way the police handle and store the growing mountain of biometric data about Scotland’s citizens is to be investigated by a new independent group.

Led by John Scott QC, whose past work led to Police Scotland ending its disproportionate use of stop-and-search, the group will look at mugshots, fingerprints and DNA samples.

The use of data from CCTV, road traffic and police body cameras will also be examined.

The aim is to produce a report by the end of the year on the ethics and governance of keeping and disposing of biometric data, and whether new laws and rules are required.

Last year, an HMCIS report on police biometric data recommended tighter legislation, a statutory code of practice and the creation of a new post of Biometrics Commissioner.

Police Scotland retain custody photos for up to 12 years even if no one is charged, although mugshots are not uploaded to the Police National Database as in England and Wales.

In 2015, after an earlier review led by Mr Scott, ministers clamped down on the use of stop and search powers by Police Scotland, after it emerged they had been repeatedly used against children under 12 despite police promises they would not be.

Under then Chief Constable Sir Stephen House, Scotland’s frisk rate was twice as high as London, leading to concerns about a target-driven system and the abuse of human rights.

Mr Scott said “proportionality and necessity” would be the key principles for the biometric review, which would look specifically at the retention of facial images by the police and others, as there is no consistent practice on use, retention and disposal.

He said: “This is a timely review in an important and fast-developing area.

"Scottish rules on retention of biometric data have been the subject of positive comment elsewhere, notably from the European Court of Human Rights when it looked at equivalent English rules in 2008.

"It is appropriate to consider if we are still getting the balance right, especially as there are new types of biometric data being used by our police, courts and prosecutors.

“In addition to the use and retention of facial images, we will look at questions which may arise with developing types of biometric data in the hope that we can establish principles informed by relevant ethical and human rights considerations to inform the delicate balancing exercise involved."

SNP Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: "At a time when police use of biometric and related technologies is increasing, this work aims to bring certainty to and maintain public confidence in police use of this data to investigate crime and protect the public.

"The group will provide expert advice taking account of the HMICS recommendations on use of facial search technology, making sure we strike the right balance between safeguarding the public and the rights of individuals when we decide how biometric data should be used in future."

The Independent Advisory Group on the Use of Biometric Data includes representatives from Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMCIS), the Crown Office, the Scottish Human Rights Commission and the Information Commissioner’s Office, as well as academic expertise.

LibDem MSP Liam McArthur said the group was “long overdue” given the HMICS report came out18 months ago.

He said: “It is right that ministers are finally taking steps towards making the necessary changes but there was no good reason for the Scottish Government to sit on the report for so long and refuse to say whether it accepted its recommendations.

“We have robust controls around DNA and fingerprints because otherwise there is a risk of miscarriage of justice or the authorities amassing data unnecessarily.

"It should be no different for new technologies focused on our distinctive characteristics such as facial recognition.”