A mobile fingerprinting system that lets the police check the identity of any person in less than a minute is now available in the United Kingdom. Fingerprints collected on the street will be compared against the 12 million records contained in national criminal and immigration fingerprint databases and, if a match is found, will return the individual’s name, date of birth, previous crimes including speeding, any drug dependencies and mental health conditions, and even their immigration status, including if they are an asylum-seeker.

Starting initially with 250 devices, the UK Home Office has begun rolling out those police mobile fingerprint scanner devices across the metropolitan county of West Yorkshire.

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.

There are currently two major national databases of fingerprints. The first, called IDENT1, contains fingerprints gathered by the police when they take someone into custody. Anyone convicted of a serious crime may have their fingerprints stored on the database indefinitely. People who were not convicted but are arrested or charged in connection with a serious crime may also have their fingerprints stored on the database for up to five years, or indefinitely if they were convicted of another crime.

The other database, IABS, contains fingerprints collected from non-UK citizens when they enter the country. The Home Office had to build a new app that enables officers to easily search both of these databases simultaneously. But people whose fingerprints are used through this system will have their details automatically deleted from the device as soon as the databases have been searched.

“For the first time, we can now identify somebody on the street through their fingerprints, through those databases,” Chief Inspector, Ian Williams, said. “We can get photographs back of the individual, we can get a full PNC (Police National Computer) record of the individual as well, which gives us a really thorough identification.”

The pocket-sized scanner, which costs under £300, come in the wake of a bit of a technological revolution for the UK police force. Early last month, the Lancashire police announced that they would be giving people the ability to report crimes using their home speaker devices like the Amazon Echo.

Even if this new device won’t actually save any suspect’s fingerprints on the police database, however, it’s obvious that this new technology is creepy and certainly rivals Chinese police wearable devices that can allow officers in a busy train station to identify the faces of suspects in a busy train station in a matter of milliseconds.

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