UK police are testing two hundred and fifty handheld devices which can fingerprint unknown persons and compare them to a database of 12 million records in under a minute (instead of an hour). Assuming the initial test goes off without a hitch in West Yorkshire, the devices will then be rolled out across the country by the UK's Home Office.
The scanners, which cost less than $300 each, can be used to take two fingerprints from a suspect, which are then compared against two national databases called IABS and IDENT1 using a Biometric Services Gateway described as "a common platform for future biometrics services."
The IABS database is comprised of processed asylum seekers, while IDENT1 - developed and managed by Northrop Grumman, maintains a database of people who have previously been arrested in the UK.
Officers will only resort to fingerprint scanning if they cannot identify an individual by other means, says Clive Poulton, who helped manage the project at the Home Office. The devices might be used in cases where someone has no identifying information on them, or appears to be giving police a fake name. “[Police] can now identify the person in front of them – whether they are known to them or not known to them, and then they can deal with them,” Poulton says.
Hmm, we wonder who this system might be aimed at?
When the program dubbed "Project MIDAS" (Mobile IDentification At Scene) was announced in 2008, the Home Office estimated the initial phase of the project would cost £30m-£40m ($41 - $55 million USD) - and The Guardian noted that it would only have access to 7.5 million records instead of the 12 million announced with the roll out.
Geoff Whitaker, a senior technology officer with the NPIA, told the Biometrics 2008 conference that Project Midas would save enormous amounts of police time and reduce the number of wrongful arrests.
At present, officers have to take suspects to custody suites if they need to check fingerprints. On average, the agency's research shows, the procedure takes 67 minutes. "If we scaled this [saving] up to the national level that would equate to 366 additional police officers on the beat," Whitaker said. "One of the benefits is that it will reduce the number of errors - and we can reduce the number of arrests significantly.
"There's a huge range of opportunities [for] mobile ID. It could be used on the deceased at the scene of a crime, on suspects for intelligence in the early part of an investigation, [or even] in a mortuary." -The Guardian
When the project was announced, the proposed system would have the capability of sending images of suspects to officers on the streets to help them confirm identities - giving them a "full, mobile national capability."
"The return of mugshots [to officers]," Whitaker added, "is something we would like to do." As Northrop Grumman told The Guardian in 2008: "A lot of the hand-held [devices] we are considering have cameras so they can support fingerprint and facial images".
Project Midas was preceded by "Project Lantern" in 2006 - with around 200 mobile units having been tested on around 30,000 individuals. The systems were deployed in police cars using automatic number plate recognition technology - stopping vehicles marked as stolen, no insurance, or simply unknown.
"The aim was to deny criminals the use of the roads," said Whitaker. "Around 60% of drivers stopped gave false identification details."
As the Guardian noted, "Fingerprint checks often showed they were carrying falsified documents."
"Thomas Smith, an officer from the Los Angeles police department, also briefed the Biometrics 2008 conference on the success of his force's mobile ID devices which send images and fingerprint matches back to officers on the street. He said they had become so powerful that once the machines were produced some suspects admitted they were lying about their identity."