Police in the UK can now scan fingerprints from anyone on the street using portable devices that identify immigrants and criminals in minutes

The UK Home Office has begun rolling out police mobile fingerprint scanner devices across West Yorkshire.

Starting initially with 250 devices, the scanners will be able to identify an unknown person in under a minute remotely.

By taking two of the suspect’s fingerprints and matching them to the 12 million records held in national and immigration databases, any officer can check someone’s identity. If a match is found, the police officer will be able to access information stored on their file. This data includes things like the suspect’s photograph, their name, their date of birth, previous crimes including speeding, any drug dependencies and mental health conditions, and even their immigration status, including if they are an asylum-seeker.

The pocket-sized scanner, which costs under £300, crawls through the two major national fingerprint police databases, the IDENT1 and the IABS. The former contains fingerprint records of those who have previously been taken into custody as well as those who have been convicted but not charged with a crime. IABS, on the other hand, contains the information of non-UK citizens, taken from citizens’ fingerprints when they first entered the country.

“For the first time, we can now identify somebody on the street through their fingerprints, through those databases,” Chief Inspector, Ian Williams, said. “We can get photographs back of the individual, we can get a full PNC (Police National Computer) record of the individual as well, which gives us a really thorough identification.”

The fingerprint scanners come in the wake of a bit of a technological revolution for the UK police force. Early last month, the Lancashire police announced that they would be giving people the ability to report crimes using their home speaker devices like the Amazon Echo.

While the fingerprint scanner is a little intrusive, the device won’t actually save your fingerprint if you’re not on their database. However, that won’t stop them from taking you in. It also sets a precedent that the police will be able to scan your prints whenever they like, simply because they have the power to do so. Currently, the authorities already have the ability to access personal data if a case requires it, after the UK’s Snooper’s Charter came into effect in 2016.

Still, while it is creepy, we’re not quite at China’s level yet. Last week, we saw an even more intrusive wearable device being used by the Chinese police. Equipping officers in a busy train station with a pair of sunglasses, the police were able to identify the faces of suspects in 100 milliseconds.

The devices will be rolled out across the country, with the Home Office expecting to have it in the hands of 20 further police forces by the end of the year.

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