Friday, 5 March 2010

Not so elementary?

All 43 police forces in England and Wales are to start using mobile fingerprint scanners enabling officers to cross-reference prints with national records, namely the National Fingerprint Database (IDENT1.) Up to 3,000 devices, will be in use by this summer,see here.

The National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) quango has signed a three-year contract worth £9m with a US firm Cogent Systems. This sounds a lot but the salaries alone of the NPIA cost £100 million a year as you can see from this link.

The technique of forensic fingerprint analysis used to be regarded as a perfect system of identification. This is no longer true. Formerly there was always a 16-point method of comparing prints. However, police chiefs have decided the current 16-point match standard is unnecessarily tough and results in guilty people going free. The use of experts was considered more reliable but four fingerprint experts were suspended in Scotland after Detective Constable Shirley McKie was wrongly accused of being at the scene of a murder in 1997. Also, tests have shown that forensic fingerprint experts may come to different conclusions when presented with the same sets of prints. Nonetheless the popular view is that the system is foolproof.

The larger the database, the greater the possibility of two fingers having roughly similar sets of coordinates and our police have a database of over 8 million sets of fingerprints already.

Fingerprint scanners will be very convenient for the police, as a check will take just two minutes and we are told that fingerprints will not be added to a database. Nonetheless, will this just be used for suspects who would otherwise have had to be taken to the police station? Or could there be some mission creep? Would it not be so easy just to check a few random, suspicious types; perhaps a watercolourist painting a factory? It's happened before, see here.

If you get one of those leaflets asking you to voice tell your prospective candidate what most concerns you, tell them that you want your civil liberties back. (You don't necessarily even have to state your address.)

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