By Joe Harker
When police interact with a member of the public they may want to identify them as quickly as possible so they can work out who they're talking to. A new trial in West Yorkshire could speed up the process as 250 pocket size fingerprint scanners have been distributed among officers in the hopes that it could become a nation wide scheme.
The scanners would check information against the databases IABS, which contains information on all processed asylum seekers, and IDENT1, which has data on people who have previously been arrested in the UK. It may be used to crack down on illegal immigration as it will show data held by the UK Border Agency.
Chief Inspector Ian Williams of West Yorkshire Police acknowledged that there could be concerns over the introduction of fingerprinting devices, but insisted they would only be used in situations where a person is a suspect and their identity is in doubt. He said: "There are human rights concerns that people will have about us using this technology.
"But to reassure people, the fingerprints themselves don't get held on our device, they are used for the purposes of the search and then they're gone."
Fingerprint scanners could save the police money and time, as the new equipment is less expensive than devices currently used. Around 20 police forces are expected to have switched to the scanners by the end of 2018 meaning they could soon be a common tool for the constabulary.
As far as time saving goes, Chief Inspector Williams says suspected criminals "tend not to carry anything with them that would identify them", meaning they have to be taken into custody in a process that could last hours. The new scanners should be able to do the job in a few minutes.
Not everyone thinks the new scheme is a good idea, with the Liberty group warning that it could puts rights at risk. They believe it is a "breathtakingly invasive" process where there has been no discussion of public consent. They also fear it will be open to abuse and Liberty's Head of Legal Casework Emma Norton believes the Home Office is trying to sneak the change past the public and parliament. She said: "This scheme is part of a pattern of the police using radical privacy-invading technology without proper public consultation or meaningful parliamentary oversight.
"Much like the facial recognition technology that is increasingly being deployed by police forces, it is being presented to us after the event and with little fanfare and is being made available to more and more officers across the country."