Irish law enforcement agencies closed an €18m deal on Wednesday to procure digital fingerprinting technology from the private sector.
The Director General of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) and the Commissioner of An Garda Siochana signed a contract with an international consortium to design and implement a new integrated electronic fingerprint system (AFIS) for police and immigration service use.
The supplier of the technology - which will be phased in over the next 18 months - is a group led by business consultancy Accenture, alongside Motorola and Irish firm Daon Biometric Systems.
The new fingerprinting system will be phased in to replace the existing system used by the Garda Technical Bureau. It will also be used to automate the manual fingerprinting system for applicants to the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC).
Subsequent phases will see an electronic fingerprint capture, matching and storage capability introduced for non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationals on registration with the immigration authorities.
The AFIS system works by digitally scanning a person's fingerprint - much like a photocopier - and loading it onto a database. Gardai can also use the scanner to make copies of prints they lift from crime scenes and software can match them with other prints on file.
The system purchased in Ireland is also set up to integrate fingerprints with other digital identifiers such as iris scans when and if these biometrics are recorded by Garda or Immigration officials.
The Department of Justice said there will be filters in place that would separate, for example, fingerprints collected by the Immigration Service at its registration centre in Dublin, and criminal fingerprints, and that access to different data stores would be restricted.
It is envisaged that digital fingerprints will assist in the detection of crime, border management, security, and identity validation.
Part of the equipment purchased under the deal will be a "mobile fingerprinting capture and search capability" for use by the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB), ostensibly at ports of entry into Ireland.
The news comes as civil liberties groups in Britain have complained that a mobile fingerprinting system being trialled by Bedfordshire police, codenamed Project Lantern, is a "bureaucratic crutch", and "the tools of an authoritarian state".
A spokesman for anti-public database group No2ID told reporters that on-the-spot fingerprinting for motorists was "going to provide police with new ways to acquire people's personal information".
A police spokesman denied this, telling the Guardian newspaper that the attraction of mobile digital fingerprinting was that it kept officers on the street rather than having to go back to the station to verify identities.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice told ENN the mobile fingerprinting unit to be used in Ireland would be primarily for immigration control. Digital fingerprints will be stored on a central database which will link into the Garda pulse system.
Fingerprint images will also be shared with a European database called EURODAC set up under the Dublin convention to tackle fraudulent and multi-Member State asylum applications.
The Department of Justice said there were no plans at present to give access to an Irish criminal fingerprint database to police forces in other jusrisdictions, and any future agreements would operate on a request basis rather than automatic electronic access.
The AFIS system was unveiled by Tanaiste and Minister for Justice Michael McDowell in Dublin, where he stressed the role it would have in immigration and border management.
"Since INIS was established in 2005 it has embarked on a series of measures to improve services across the whole spectrum of its activities and to strengthen the effectiveness of the immigration system. Allowing fingerprint data of migrants to be taken - which is already a requirement laid down by law - electronically will significantly enhance the integrity of our immigration system and allow the GNIB, in particular, to more rapidly detect and deal with cases of identity abuse," he said.
"The deployment of this system together with other ongoing IT development projects in the visa and immigration system coupled with the recently published scheme for a comprehensive new Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill will see Ireland's immigration system being on par with the best models available."
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