Policing / Stop and search

Know your rights: police stop and scan technology

Posted by Donnchadh Greene on 14 Mar 2018

Last month, the Home Office announced that West Yorkshire Police will roll out an expanded scheme of on-the-spot fingerprint scanning. Officers armed with portable scanners will be able to check people’s fingerprints – on the street – against both criminal databases and error-strewn Home Office lists of asylum seekers.

When can an officer stop and scan you?

Police can use fingerprint scanners in very limited circumstances. They must:

  • Have reason to believe you’ve committed a crime – from armed robbery to not having the right immigration papers
  • And be unable to establish what your name is, or have “reason to doubt” you’re telling the truth about who you are.

Your rights

If a police officer asks to scan your fingerprints on the street:

  • Consider whether you should film the encounter. If you feel safe to do so, this could help ensure the police comply with their duties and act lawfully – or provide evidence if they don’t. Be careful not to obstruct the police as they carry out their duties, as this is an offence.
  • Before you decide whether to comply with the police’s request:Ask why you’re being stopped.
    • Ask whether they believe 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. The police are bound by the Equality Act 2010, and could be breaking the law if they have stopped you for discriminatory reasons.
    • Ask what their reasonable grounds are for believing you’ve given a false name or address.
  • if they have no reasonable grounds, 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. However, consider that if you refuse they may arrest you and take you to a police station to carry out the fingerprint scan. An arrest may show up on an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check, if relevant. In general, for your safety, we urge you to cooperate with police orders

Contact Liberty if you are concerned the police have breached your rights.

I'm looking for advice on this

Did you know Liberty offers free human rights legal advice?

What are my rights on this?

Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them

Did you find this content useful?

Help us make our content even better by letting us know whether you found this page useful or not

Need advice or information?