Page last updated at 14:48 GMT, Monday, 27 October 2008

On-street fingerprint checks plan

Fingerprint scan
The NPIA says trials of the devices have been a "stunning success"

Hand-held fingerprint scanners enabling on-the-spot identity checks are to be made available to all UK police forces.

The devices, about the size of a mobile phone, will be rolled out from 2010 under a scheme managed by the National Policing Improvement Agency.

Similar technology has been trialled by 20 forces in England and Wales.

The NPIA says the machines can save officers an enormous amount of time but civil liberty groups expressed concern about their introduction.

Tenders for the Mobile Identification At Scene (Midas) scheme are being sought.

The NPIA said there was a "huge range of opportunities" for using the devices such as during arrests, scenes of crimes and post mortem examinations.

A spokesman said: "It also means police get to stay in the community for longer which increases their presence on the street."

The initial phase of the the scheme is expected to cost police forces 30-40m.

Voluntarily scheme

Currently, officers have to take suspects to custody suites in police stations to check their fingerprints.

The NPIA says hand-held scanners would save them time and cut the number of wrongful arrests.

The devices compare prints against the records of the 7.5m people on the police national biometric database.

The images are sent encrypted to the national computer using the same technology used to handle data in mobile phones.

People stopped by police have the right to refuse to have their fingerprints scanned, and legislation prohibits storage of any images taken.

The NPIA said trials of mobile fingerprint scanners have been a "stunning success", with the vast amount of people co-operating and officers establishing an identity in 87% of cases within two minutes.

Tests involving a mobile fingerprint scanner known as the Lantern began in 2006 among 10 forces in England and Wales. It was extended in June and now involves 20 forces using a total of 200 devices.

This implies a completely new power for police to fingerprint you in the street, using an iffy technology
Phil Booth, NO2ID
Officers have typically used the scanners alongside automatic number plate recognition systems to check the identities of people in vehicles flagged up as stolen, uninsured, or with no MoTs.

The NPIA said evidence on unrelated crimes has also been acquired as a result of the scanners' use.

Civil liberties campaigners said the plan could result in more details about innocent people being held on police databases.

Anti-ID card campaign group NO2ID maintained there was a degree of error in any biometric scanner - "not least a small roadside device".

Phil Booth, the group's national co-ordinator, said he feared the technology would be used to "pick on" members of the public.

"This implies a completely new power for police to fingerprint you in the street, using an iffy technology.

"If refusing to co-operate can get you arrested, then you would have not just fingerprints but DNA on a criminal database for the rest of your life."

Gareth Crossman, policy director with civil rights group Liberty, told the Guardian newspaper: "Saving time with new technology could help police performance but officers must make absolutely certain that they take fingerprints only when they suspect an individual of an offence and can't establish his identity."

The Home Office said mobile fingerprinting units were one example of a range of improvements to make policing more effective in England and Wales.

A spokesman said: "The recent policing green paper set out radical plans to cut red tape to allow police to focus on the most serious crime and on local issues."

Graphic showing how scanners read fingerprints to record identities

Is mobile fingerprinting a good idea?
22 Nov 06 |  Have Your Say
Fingerprint scan trial rolled out
31 Jul 06 |  Hereford/Worcs

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