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Brit police to get handheld fingerprinting devices

Brit police to get handheld fingerprinting devices

British police are getting a new weapon in their arsenal _ handheld fingerprinting machines.
Twenty forces across England and Wales are already testing the technology and other British police forces will get the machines within the next 18 months, the National Policing Improvement Agency announced Monday.
Civil rights groups, however, warned against using the tool to expand what is already the world's largest surveillance database.
Britain has some of the most extensive surveillance powers in the world and has become a leader in what critics call "Big Brother" techniques ranging from secret listening devices to the more than 4.3 million closed-circuit cameras in operation.
The mobile fingerprinting devices allow officers to check identities within 5 minutes. The fingerprints will then be compared against the national police database, which holds information on nearly 8 million people and can interface with Interpol on international suspects, according to policing agency spokesman Valentine Murombe-Chivero.
Matches are graded according to medium or high, which refers to how likely a match it is.
"It will keep criminals from slipping through the net and could be hugely beneficial in the future," Murombe-Chivero said.
The technology is already being used by the Los Angeles police force.
Under current British law, fingerprints have to be destroyed if suspects aren't charged. Civil rights groups, however, say recent laws enacted after the July 7, 2005, suicide bombings in London have given more power to police and allow for the expansion of the national database _ already the largest per capita database in the world.
They fear that future amendments could allow any fingerprints collected on the machines to be put on the national database.
"Technology is neutral. It's the framework under which it's applied that can pose problems," said Gareth Crossman, policy director for the British rights group, Liberty. "One of the questions it raises is whether it could be linked with the ID card and the database behind the ID card program."
The government has long lobbied to expand the country's national database, which is larger than that of the United States and holds DNA profiles of more than 4 million people, or more than 5.4 percent of the U.K.'s population.
Britain is also considering a database to store all phone and e-mail traffic in the country. Such a database could store patterns of Web usage, including phone numbers dialed, Web sites visited and the e-mail addresses used.
By the end of 2008, ID cards with biometric data such as fingerprints will be compulsory for non-European nationals working in the United Kingdom.
"The sharing and handling of identity data is a matter of rightful public concern. Some biometric data is already shared with other public safety agencies, but this is always on a proportionate basis and within legislative constraints and international agreements," Murombe-Chivero said.
The National Policing Improvement Agency hopes the devices will have facial recognition capabilities in time for London's 2012 Olympics.
Alec Jeffreys, a British scientist whose DNA profiling discovery helped exonerate convicted murderers and identify victims in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and other disasters, said a handheld device to compare DNA data was on the horizon but had not materialized yet.
"Although I believe that is something that will happen inevitably, there's a big difference in that and collecting an ordinary thumb print," Jeffreys told the AP. "In the future, however, I could see those two approaches being complimentary."
Rights groups have demanded that police only ask for fingerprints if the suspect is accused of an offense or if their identity is in question.
In England, DNA samples can be stored on the national database even if a suspect is acquitted of a crime or never charged.
"If refusing to cooperate can get you arrested, then you would have not just fingerprints but DNA on a criminal database for the rest of your life," warned Phil Booth of anti-ID card group NO2ID.


Updated : 2021-05-07 07:17 GMT+08:00