BBC News reports:
Hand-held fingerprint scanners enabling on-the-spot identity checks are to be made available to all UK police forces.
The devices, about the size of a mobile phone, will be rolled out from 2010 under a scheme managed by the National Policing Improvement Agency. […]
The devices compare prints against the records of the 7.5m people on the police national biometric database.
The images are sent encrypted to the national computer using the same technology used to handle data in mobile phones.
Of course, there are valid questions about the effectiveness of the handheld scanner techonolgy. However, technology will only get better so we should not criticize such programs solely on the basis of technological failure.
The handheld scanners make it easier to identify individuals, which is why the police are using them. But, that ease also gives unscrupulous officers incentive to fake reasons to demand that individuals submit their fingerprints. Officially, “People stopped by police have the right to refuse to have their fingerprints scanned, and legislation prohibits storage of any images taken.” However, I question how voluntary this decision can be when an officer has already decided that you need to be identified because he or she finds you suspicious.
UK police began testing the use of these handheld biometric devices last year. It is worth noting that in November 2006, there were one million fewer records in the UK police national biometric database. Australia also began using handheld scanners in 2006.