UK: Disquiet over discreet introduction of portable fingerprint scanners for police

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Disquiet over discreet introduction of portable fingerprint scanners for police
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"Police in the UK have started using a mobile fingerprinting system that lets them check the identity of an unknown person in less than a minute. Fingerprints collected on the street will be compared against the 12 million records contained in national criminal and immigration fingerprint databases and, if a match is found, will return the individual’s name, date of birth and other identifying information.

Officers will only resort to fingerprint scanning if they cannot identify an individual by other means, says Clive Poulton, who helped manage the project at the Home Office. The devices might be used in cases where someone has no identifying information on them, or appears to be giving police a fake name. “[Police] can now identify the person in front of them – whether they are known to them or not known to them, and then they can deal with them,” Poulton says."

See: UK police are now using fingerprint scanners on the streets to identify people in less than a minute (Wired, link)

Currently only West Yorkshire Police are making use of the new devices, but the Home Office expects that "another 20 forces across the country will roll out the system by the end of this year." See: Home Office press release:Police trial new Home Office mobile fingerprint technology(pdf)

The move has been strongly criticised by Liberty with regard to the both the procedure followed and the implications of the new devices: Why it's not okay for police to quietly roll out on-the-spot fingerprint scanning(Liberty, link):

"Today, shortly after midnight and with little fanfare, the Home Office announced that West Yorkshire Police will roll out a scheme letting officers armed with portable scanners check – on the street – anyone’s fingerprints against both criminal and immigration databases.

There's no recognition of how breathtakingly invasive this proposal is. There is no discussion of consent. Or of the importance of legal advice before people should be asked to hand over this kind of information about themselves. Or what may happen if someone declines a request.

Or of what will be done with it – including the fact that it will be shared with the Home Office to target undocumented migrants.

What about vulnerable people? What about children and young people? What about people being targeted for illegitimate reasons, like the colour of their skin? This Government’s policy of creating a “hostile environment” for migrants suggests that this is very likely to happen."

UPDATE 13.2.18: The Network for Police Monitoring has rightly pointed out that mobile fingerprinting has been happening for some time, albeit in a less "sophisticated" manner. In 2013 they produced a guide to: Your Rights and Mobile Fingerprinting(Netpol, link)

And: West Yorkshire Police demonstrates UK-first biometrics technology (Information Age, link)

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