London police are scaling up their use of mobile fingerprint scanners, with 600 shiny new devices due to be doled out by early 2019.
The Metropolitan Police said the new devices – the software for which was developed in-house – would save about £200,000 in support costs each year, allowing many more cops to use them.
Fewer than 100 devices have been available in recent years, the Met confirmed in a statement – it now plans to roll out 600 to frontline officers in the next six months.
The device, named INK Biometrics (for Identity Not Known), runs on an Android phone with a Crossmatch fingerprint reader, and claims to scan and cross-check a print within 60 seconds.
Prints are compared with those stored in the Criminal Records Office and immigration enforcement databases, by connecting securely with the Home Office’s Biometrics Services (API) Gateway.
This is the single point of access to the Home Office Biometrics programme, and the use of it was trialled by the West Yorkshire Police back in February.
At the time, the Home Office emphasised the fingerprints are not stored and are automatically deleted from scanners once they have been checked against the databases and the officer has logged off the device.
However, it incurred the ire of privacy campaigners, who complained there was little discussion of consent or the importance of a person being offered legal advice before agreeing to have their prints scanned.
Big Brother Watch issued similar warnings today, with director Silkie Carlo saying that the “growth of border-style security on our streets should be cause for concern to all of us”.
In particular, Carlo noted that the roll-out of fingerprint scanners risked exacerbating existing bias in policing. “This tool clearly risks being applied disproportionately to ethnic minorities who have been over-policed for far too long,” she said.
“If there is reason to believe someone has both committed an offence and is lying about their identity, they should be taken to a police station, read their rights, and dealt with properly.”
The Met, though, said prints could only be taken when there is a legal cause under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act – and that the aim of mobile scanners was to cut down the time and money forces spend taking suspects to the station.
“If a suspect has a criminal record or is known to immigration enforcement their identity can be confirmed at the roadside and an officer, with relevant access levels, can also use the device to check the Police National Computer to establish if they are currently wanted for any outstanding offences,” the Met said.
According to Met commissioner Cressida Dick, the speed of analysis will help elsewhere, as it would “drive effectiveness and efficiency and allow officers to spend more time in our communities and fighting crime”.
Dick added that this was part of her aims to make “the best possible use of technology to fight crime” – however, she has previously indicated that some of this is driven by public opinion.
In July, Dick admitted she didn’t expect the use of automated facial recognition tech to result in "lots of arrests" – but that the public would "expect" cops to trial it.
That work, though, has also come under intense pressure from campaigners, and is currently subject to a legal challenge by Big Brother Watch.
A similar challenge has been launched against the South Wales Police by Liberty and Cardiff man Ed Bridges. ®