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Fingerprints, photographs, samples and searches

The police have the right to take photographs of you if you're arrested. They can also take forensic evidence like fingerprints and a DNA sample – for example, from a mouth swab or head hair root.

They do not need your permission to do this and can use reasonable force if you refuse.

The police need a warrant (permission from a court) to take samples like blood or urine. However, they are allowed to take a blood or urine sample in connection with drink or drug driving.

The police also need a warrant to carry out an intimate body search (strip search) or an invasive search, which involves an internal examination. For a non-intimate strip search, the police will need authorisation from an Inspector or the senior custody officer present if an Inspector is not available. The name of the authorising officer will be recorded in the custody record.

A doctor will attend to carry out examinations and take blood or urine samples.

How your information is stored

If you're convicted of the crime (you plead guilty or are found guilty at court), information from fingerprints and samples will be stored permanently in a police database along with your criminal record.

This applies to children aged 12 or over who admit to a serious crime at a Children's Hearing – or when a Children's Hearing court case finds they committed the crime.

Otherwise, this information is normally destroyed unless:

  • you accept an alternative to prosecution in court (such as a fine) – your details can be held for 2 years, or 3 years for violent or sexual offences
  • you're found not guilty of a violent or sexual offence or your case is dropped – your details can be held for up to 3 years

The police can also apply to court to keep your DNA information for further periods of 2 years at a time. They can apply to extend this as many times as they need to.

You can find out if your information is stored on the police database by getting a copy of your police records from your local police station.

Ask for your information to be removed

Write to your local police to ask for your personal information to be removed from the police database.

They'll only do this if the offence no longer exists or if anything in the police process (for example, how you were arrested) was unlawful.

If you're not happy with how the police respond to your request, you can complain to the Information Commissioner's Office.

If you have had your biometric data captured by the police, and think your data is being held in a way that goes against the code of practice, you can complain to the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner.

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can also help if you want to complain about how the police have handled information about you.

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