Early last year, the West Yorkshire police rolled out an expanded scheme of on-the-spot fingerprint scanning. This allowed police officers that were armed with portable scanners to check people’s fingerprints – on the street – against both criminal databases and error-strewn Home Office lists of asylum seekers.
The portable device, named INK Biometrics, is used on an Android smartphone handset that is paired with a Crossmatch fingerprint reader allowing the police to confirm a known criminal within 60 seconds.
If it is found that the suspect has a criminal record, their identity ca be confirmed at the roadside and an officer could then use the device to check the Police National Computer and see if they are currently wanted for any outstanding offences.
When Can You be Stopped and Scanned?
Police can use fingerprint scanners in very limited circumstances. The officer must:
- Have a genuine reason to believe that you’ve committed a crime, and
- Be unable to establish what your name is, or have “reason to doubt” that you’re telling the truth about who you are.
Your Rights: Stop and Scan
If you are asked by a police officer for a scan of your fingerprints on the street:
- You need to decide whether or not to film the encounter (I always recommend that you do so.) This will help to make sure that the police comply with their duties and act lawfully – or provide evidence if they don’t. When doing so, don’t obstruct the police as they carry out their duties, as this is considered to be an offence.
Before you decide whether to comply with the police’s request:
- Ask why you’re being stopped. The police MUST give you the reason
- Ask whether they believe that you have committed a crime – and if so, what crime?
- Ask what their reasonable belief for this is.
If they believe it is because you have committed an immigration offence, press them for a full explanation of why they think this.
Because the police are bound by the Equality Act 2010, they could be breaking the law if they have stopped you for discriminatory reasons.
- Find out what their reasonable grounds are for believing that you’ve given a false name or address.
If the police have no reasonable grounds then you have the legal right to refuse to let them scan your fingerprints. You can explain that section 61(6A) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 does not give them the power to force you to give your fingerprints, and doing so could amount to false imprisonment.
You must understand however, that if you refuse to give a scan of your fingerprints, they may arrest you and take you to a police station to carry out the fingerprint scan. In most cases and for your safety, we urge you to cooperate with police orders.
My own thoughts are that the government should NEVER silently roll out anything where the public is concerned. It is incredibly invasive.
What about vulnerable people? What about children and young people? What about people being targeted for illegitimate reasons, like the colour of their skin? This Government’s policy of creating a “hostile environment” for migrants suggests that this is very likely to happen.
This scheme is part of a pattern of the police using radical privacy-invading technology without proper public consultation or meaningful parliamentary oversight.