Why it's not okay for police to quietly roll out on-the-spot fingerprint scanning

Posted by Emma Norton on 10 February 2018

The Home Office has announced that West Yorkshire Police will roll out an expanded scheme of on-the-spot fingerprint scanning without any public or parliamentary debate. Our Head of Legal Casework Emma Norton explains why our rights could be at risk. 

The police have a very difficult job. Protecting the public, fighting crime. It’s a job that hasn’t got any easier in recent years. 

Police stop people

So you can understand why there is always a keen interest in how new technologies can be developed and enhanced to support and promote the police’s ability to do their work. 

But very bad things can happen when the police get it wrong – which is why vital rights have been enshrined in law to ensure a certain minimum level of protection for suspects.

Over the years, a number of important protections that have been set in place to protect suspects have been eroded. 

Stop and scan

Today, shortly after midnight and with little fanfare, the Home Office announced that West Yorkshire Police will roll out a scheme letting officers armed with portable scanners check – on the street – anyone’s fingerprints against both criminal and immigration databases.

There's no recognition of how breathtakingly invasive this proposal is. There is no discussion of consent. Or of the importance of legal advice before people should be asked to hand over this kind of information about themselves. Or what may happen if someone declines a request.

Or of what will be done with it – including the fact that it will be shared with the Home Office to target undocumented migrants.

What about vulnerable people? What about children and young people? What about people being targeted for illegitimate reasons, like the colour of their skin? This Government’s policy of creating a “hostile environment” for migrants suggests that this is very likely to happen.

Cutting out Parliament and the people

This scheme is part of a pattern of the police using radical privacy-invading technology without proper public consultation or meaningful parliamentary oversight.

Much like the facial recognition technology that is increasingly being deployed by police forces, it is being presented to us after the event and with little fanfare and is being made available to more and more officers across the country.

In this case, we learned about it via a sneaky gov.uk post early on a Saturday morning.

If you have been affected by these new measures, please tell Liberty about it and get legal advice quickly.

[This blog was updated on 10 February 2018 at 20:15 to reflect a change in the Police and  Criminal Evidence Act 1984].


Emma Norton

Emma Norton

Head of Legal Casework