Police in the UK have started using a mobile fingerprinting system that lets them check the identity of an unknown person in less than a minute.
Fingerprints collected on the street will be compared against the 12 million records contained in national criminal and immigration fingerprint databases and, if a match is found, will return the individual’s name, date of birth and other identifying information.
Officers will only resort to fingerprint scanning if they cannot identify an individual by other means, says Clive Poulton, who helped manage the project at the Home Office. The devices might be used in cases where someone has no identifying information on them, or appears to be giving police a fake name.
“[Police] can now identify the person in front of them – whether they are known to them or not known to them, and then they can deal with them,” Poulton says.
There are currently two major national databases of fingerprints. The first, called IDENT1, contains fingerprints gathered by the police when they take someone into custody. Anyone convicted of a serious crime may have their fingerprints stored on the database indefinitely.
People who were not convicted but are arrested or charged in connection with a serious crime may also have their fingerprints stored on the database for up to five years, or indefinitely if they were convicted of another crime.
The other database, IABS, contains fingerprints collected from non-UK citizens when they enter the country. The Home Office had to build a new app that enables offers to easily search both of these databases simultaneously,but people fingerprinted using this system will have their details automatically deleted from the device as soon as the databases have been searched.
The system has been in development for the last twelve months, and was trialled by West Yorkshire Police for three weeks before being rolling out 250 scanners to its officers. “It’s effectively available to every officer,” says Poulton.