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Chamber and committees

Criminal Justice Committee

Police Scotland's use of remote piloted aircraft systems and body-worn video cameras

Letter from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to the Convener, Criminal Justice Committee, 17 May 2021

Dear Convener,

Justice Sub-Committee on Policing Report: Police Scotland's use of Remote Piloted Aircraft Systems and Body-worn Video Cameras

Thank you for sending me a copy of the Sub-Committee’s report on police use of drones and body-worn video. I have carefully considered the Committee’s recommendations on these important topics, and I am confident that the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland will have done the same.

Whilst I continue to support Police Scotland in using emerging technology to keep our communities safe, I have always been clear of the need to ensure that the use of such
technologies in operational policing is compatible with human rights, applicable legislation, and international best practice. I am grateful to the Sub-Committee for drawing further attention to these issues in their report.

It is precisely because of this need that I instructed the formation of the Independent Advisory Group on New and Emerging Technologies in Policing. The Sub-Committee will wish to be aware this Group, chaired by Dr. Elizabeth Aston, has now been set-up with representation drawn from across policing, academia and broader interest groups including human rights and data privacy. The Group has identified four workstreams focussed on the processes that should be undertaken when considering introducing new technologies, and both Police Scotland and the SPA are contributing to each workstream. These four workstreams are:

  • Legal Framework and Ethical Standards;
  • Evidence and Scientific Standards;
  • Consultation and Community Engagement; and
  • Oversight, Scrutiny and Review.

Full details as to the membership of the Group and its ongoing work, have been published on the Scottish Government website. Minutes of meetings are also published as soon as possible after each the group meets and can be accessed at the following address: Independent advisory group on emerging technologies in policing: terms of reference - (

It appears evident to me that many of the themes identified by the Sub-Committee in their report are echoed in these workstreams. In addition to this work, at the last meeting of the Group in March 2021 it was agreed that it would use body-worn video as a live case study. My understanding is that the Group feel that they can provide helpful feedback to Police Scotland as they prepare for introduction, and that for their part Police Scotland welcome the opportunity for critical challenge and engagement from the Group.

In light of the continued emphasis on the role of emerging technology in policing, the Scottish Government is also supportive of the call for continued wide-ranging and comprehensive public consultation and engagement. I agree that any such engagement should focus not only on the use and deployment of the two technologies covered in this report, but also other emerging technology as the case may be, and note the work already being carried out by Police Scotland in realtion to ethics panels as part of an open approach to consultation, engagement and scrutiny.

As with other policing matters, these issues are of course not for the Scottish Government to consider alone. As the Committee has rightly recognised in making its full range of recommendations, Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority have a key role to play, and I understand that both bodies will reply to the Sub-Committee in full. I also note that the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner has already responded in relation to the two recommendations addressed to him, and welcome his offer to assist the ongoing work of Dr. Aston’s Advisory Group.

Whilst there are no specific recommendations addressed to the Scottish Government directly, I note the Sub-Committee’s recommendation that a statutory code of practice be developed for the police use of drones. The Sub-Committee may wish to consider that in examining the legal and ethical framework around the introduction of new technology, part of the remit of the Independent Advisory Group is “to provide specific recommendations or concrete products (such as a code of practice) to address any identified issues”. The final report of the Group, along with any recommendations, is expected in Spring 2022 and at this stage I would clearly not wish to prejudge what those concrete products might look like. I am sure Dr. Aston will be cognisant of the Sub-Committees recommendation.

The Scottish Government will continue to work with Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority and others to develop an approach to the use of new technologies which is effective, proportionate and ethical.

Humza Yousaf


Related correspondences

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Remote piloted aircraft systems and body worn video cameras

Letter from the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner to the Convener, Criminal Justice Committee, 5 May 2021

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Letter from the Scottish Police Authority to the Convener, Criminal Justice Committee, Thursday 27 May 2021

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Letter from Police Scotland to the Convener, Criminal Justice Committee, 31 May 2021