Wednesday, October 29, 2008

UK Police will fingerprint people in the street

UK Police are to be issued with hand-held fingerprint scanners, "so that they can check people's identities in the street".

There's no clear explanation offered of what value this is under the current law, where we are entitled to go about our lawful business without identifying ourselves to the police. The police just aren't entitled to "check your identity" – whatever that means.

Fingerprints taken using the device will be compared against the national police database, which holds information on a quite staggering 7.5 million individuals.

Large public occasions, sporting events, festivals and political conferences could be targeted by the schemes as well as the 2012 London Olympics.

NO2ID said there needs to be legal protections put in place. The group called for assurances that any failures in the technology would be reported to Parliament, and asked that it be made illegal for the fingerprints to be checked against any database other than the criminal databases. They said, for instance, that prints should not be checked against the proposed national identity database.

The group asked that it be made illegal for the fingerprints collected on the streets to be stored, and asked that police officers be banned from arresting those who refuse to give prints.

One thing is plain. History shows we cannot trust the government to constrain unlawful use of a new toy by overzealous forces. In 2000 the courts declared unlawful the standard police practice of hanging on, forever, to DNA records of unconvicted people. No illegal samples were destroyed as a result. Instead the present government changed the law retrospectively to make it all legal after all.

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