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Scotland police considering handheld fingerprint scanners for forensic work


Police in Scotland are considering implementing new technology that could compare fingerprints left at murder scenes against a national biometrics database using a mobile phone, according to a report by The Scotsman.

The police force is looking into the use of the handheld fingerprint scanners in their forensic work as part of its 10-year strategy.

The Scottish Police Authority (SPA) said the technology could significantly improve murder investigations where the initial “golden hour” plays a key role in the collection of evidence.

There are more than 420,000 individuals with a Scottish criminal record whose fingerprints are stored on UK-wide fingerprint database IDENT1, according to figures obtained by Scotland on Sunday.

Using the handheld devices, Scotland police officers would be able to find an instant match to a suspect’s fingerprints on the database while still at the crime scene, according to Tom Nelson, head of forensics at the SPA.

In addition, Nelson said that scientific advances would soon allow police to generate descriptions of perpetrators based on a DNA sample.

“The police strategy talks about mobile devices being used at the crime scene,” Nelson said. “If we can get this type of technology on to devices, whether it be mobile phones or some other medium, that begins to allow us to take science to the crime scene. A photograph could be taken of a fingerprint and that could be immediately checked against the national fingerprint database. You would know straight away whether it’s someone you may be interested in.”

Privacy advocates raised concerns about the police use of biometric data after Scotland on Sunday recently revealed that mugshots of people who had not committed a crime were being kept on file for up to 12 years.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) drafted a report recommending that an independent biometrics commissioner be appointed to oversee police use of fingerprints, DNA and photographs.

There are nearly 630,000 images of more than 376,000 people in the Scottish Criminal History System (CHS), while police hold DNA profiles of nearly 330,000 individuals, according to figures obtained under Freedom of Information legislation.

Nelson said the police force would need to consult the public before deciding on extending the fingerprint database to include the entire population of the country.

“To me that’s a decision the public and the government would have to take,” Nelson said. “What it wouldn’t do is solve every crime because a person will not always leave a biometric that will be good enough for identification. But if the public decided that was the way to go, it would certainly enhance some of the work we’re doing.”

Advances in DNA profiling mean that within five to 10 years police will be able to put together a description of a perpetrator, including their hair colour, their shape and size, said Nelson.

Earlier this year, the UK home secretary ordered UK police agencies to delete on request millions of images of innocent people illegally stored on a national police database.

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