Election issue spotlight: Policing & Surveillance

Over the past five years, Police Scotland has introduced various technologies to enhance their law enforcement capabilities such as “cyber kiosks” which can extract electronic data held on digital devices like mobile phones. To provide oversight of these technologies, the Scottish Parliament created the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing.

The Sub-Committee has proven effective at scrutinising new developments in policing such as facial recognition technology and Police Scotland’s digital data and ICT strategy. It will finish at the end of this Parliamentary session and must be established voluntarily by the Justice Committee. ORG would like to see the Sub-Committee maintained and renewed.

Where the parties stand

The following statements were made by candidates during our Human and Digital Rights Hustings. View the full transcript and recording here.


“Clearly policing has to be done with consent. It has to take the public with you. Technology can and has radically changed the way that crimes are investigated, and some of that has been very good, but it also has to be balanced around the whole issue of human rights and making sure that individuals and are not having their rights overrun by that, and I think it will be a debate that we will have going forward over the next few years, and that balance between absolutely wanting to find and bring to justice those who have committed crimes but at the same time making sure that civil liberties and are not taken away.”

Scottish Conservatives – Jeremy Balfour

Scottish Greens

“In terms of surveillance, the Greens would oppose mass surveillance, whether that’s by the state or by private corporations. Any surveillance of the population needs to be a proportionate response to a specific issue, so for example I think it’s quite a knee-jerk reaction, and this is because I’m a local counsellor, but I think local communities can have a really a reaction that there’s something happens and the response is ‘we need more cctv’ and actually it’s like, well no, do you need actually well-funded community work and well-funded youth work, for example. We also need to have democratic oversight over any and all surveillance. Green MSP John Finnie has been a really a leading voice in the Parliament on this, and against the use of facial recognition technology by Police Scotland. John Finnie said that it’s clear that this technology was inno fit state to be ruled out, or indeed to assist the police with their work, and that the facial recognition technology as it is throws up too many false positives, and it does contain inherent biases that are known to be discriminatory. As we’ve heard earlier, we’ve also led scrutiny of the of the roll out of cyber kiosks, and we need to review the use of these. 

They’re really quite concerning that they were rolled out without adequate checks being done in terms of equalities impact, security impact, etc.”

Scottish Greens – Kim Long


“In relation to facial recognition and digital technology, I think new technology and digital technologies are giving us great advances in our lives, however the way that we’ve seen it deployed at times can be very worrying. I’ve seen it discriminately deployed at football matches unfairly without justification, and this is something the police and [Justice] Subcommittee of the Scottish Parliament has looked at, and has done some very important work in flagging up some of the flaws, so I think the there have to be some serious considerations as to how that’s going to be used going forward, not only by police but also by private sector organizations, because we run the risk of people’s not only human rights being infringed, but their identities have been captured, now we were very worrying indeed.”

Scottish Labour – James Kelly

Liberal Democrats

“In successive Parliaments, we’ve carefully scrutinized the emergence of new technologies that have the potential to challenge our civil liberties. It’s been six years since the Liberal Democrat investigation first triggered concerns about how the police use new and emerging biometric technologies. We revealed the unregulated use of facial recognition technologies, and then secured inquiries by both Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland, and John Scott QC, both of which vindicated our concerns and led to the creation and recent appointment of the first biometrics commissioner. We note that facial recognition technology employed by the Met has been independently found to be discriminatory. According to analysis of their data, 93% of supposed matches in their four years of trials has been wrong. And as well as being inaccurate, it’s also been shown to be much less accurate in identifying women and ethnic minorities than it has been for identifying white men, which means that women and BAME people are much more likely to be stopped without reason than white men. 

Now, we also note that Police Scotland started rolling out cyber kiosks in 2018 with little to no thought to privacy or human rights, and that earned them a dressing down from MSPs,  the Information Commissioner, and the Scottish Human Rights Commission, and they’ve now been rolled out but with more information available in the public domain, but we need to be very careful and ensure that any such technological necessity that’s been brought in for the sake of policing needs to also be examined for any potential human rights abuses that could be affected by that.

We need to be very careful and ensure that any such technological necessity that’s been brought in for the sake of policing needs to also be examined for any potential human rights abuses that could be affected by that.”

 Scottish Lib Dems – Fraser Graham

Scottish National Party

“on to the issues around digital technologies and around digital and surveillance, and there have been quite understandable concerns around this area over the past years and that’s exactly why comes Hamza Yusaf, the Justice Secretary, and the previous SNP government, formulated this same Independent Advisory Group that going forward will look at all the legal and the ethical issues around all of these emerging technologies.”

SNP – Shirley-Anne Somerville

What ORG wants

  • Parties commit to maintain the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Sub-Committee on Policing
  • Parties commit to a review of Scotland’s cyber kiosks roll-out and their effectiveness in meeting their aims.