Police to get mobile fingerprint scanners amid plans to hold random identity checks

Police forces will be issued with mobile fingerprint scanners amid plans to carry out random identity checks on people in the street. The new hand-held devices will enable every officer on the ground to receive instant images of suspects as part of a scheme codenamed Project Midas.No bigger than a BlackBerry smartphone, the technology will be widely distributed to every force in the UK within 18 months. Senior police chiefs claim the operation will rapidly improve police reaction times and hasten the speed of criminal investigations. But critics warn the device is yet another step towards a sinister 'big brother' state, controlled by mass surveillance and random checks on innocent citizens. Each photograph is enhanced using 'facial mapping' techniques which, when combined with computerised facial recognition, could allow CCTV cameras to trigger an alert when they film a known criminal. The planned Facial Images National Database project would allow every force to access the photographs for the first time.

In a bid to address fears police insist fingerprints captured on the scanners will not be stored or added to any databases. Liberty, the civil rights group, is concerned about the introduction of scanners, quoting the law which requires any print taken in such circumstances to be deleted immediately after use. Gareth Crossman, Liberty's policy director, said: '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 is understood to have already allocated  50 million for 10,000 of the mobile devices by September. A prototype machine has already been trailed during a series of tests carried out by motorway patrols. Details of the equipment and the proposed scope of use emerged from a presentation by the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA). A preliminary phase of Midas has already set the taxpayer back 30m-40m but it is expected to cut the performance time for the fingerprinting of suspects arrested or detained and free up officers for other duties.

At present, officers have to take suspects to custody suites if they need to check their fingerprints. On average the procedure is reported to take 67 minutes with many taking far longer. Geoff Whitaker, a senior technology officer with the NPIA said Project Midas will save enormous amounts of police time and reduce the number of wrongful arrests. He said: 'If we scaled this (saving) up to the national level that would equate to 366 additional police officers on the beat. He added: 'One of the benefits is that it will reduce the number of errors - and we can reduce the number of arrests significantly. 'There's a huge range of opportunities for mobile ID. It could be used on the deceased at the scene of a crime, on suspects for intelligence in the early part of an investigation, (or even) in a mortuary.'

Large public occasions, sporting events, festivals and political conferences could be targeted by the schemes as well as the 2012 London Olympics. Another facet will be the change to how immigration and border control issues and the benefits of images being beamed instantly to officers. Some U.S. forces are already making use of the technology. The tender document for Midas states: 'Bidders' solutions ...should be included, but may not be limited to, fingerprint identification capability.' Last night the Home Office refused to comment on the scheme but confirmed that the scheme was being dealt with by NPIA. (dailymail, 10.27.2009, Matthew Drake) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1080841/Police-mobile-fingerprint-scanners-amid-plans-hold-random-identity-checks.html

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