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Home Office faces ‘super complaint’ over use of fingerprint data


Parliamentary Correspondent

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The Home Office is facing an investigation after claims that police using mobile fingerprint scanners matched more than 4,000 people against immigration databases.

A ‘super complaint’ – which allows designated organisations to raise issues on behalf of the public about harmful patterns or trends in policing – has been lodged by the campaign groups Liberty and Southall Black Sisters. They claimed that frontline officers had been drafted into the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy.

More than half of police forces have deployed the scanners since last year, prompting Liberty to describe the data matching as “a new and worrying capability”. It warned the move was “discriminatory, breaches people’s human rights and prevents victims from reporting crime”.

“Black and minority ethnic communities are most likely to be profiled on grounds of suspected immigration status,” Liberty said. 

“These communities are already over-policed and many people won’t know their rights when asked by police to identify themselves in the street and are likely to comply without question.

“Police have no role enforcing the government’s toxic hostile environment. Mobile fingerprint scanners should be withdrawn and the Government must stop co-opting vital public services into this discredited system.”

Savings claim

The Home Office has argued the scanners are saving the police both time and money, allowing officers to use an app on their phones to connect to the Biometric Services Gateway portal, which enables searches of criminal records and immigration enforcement databases. The fingerprints are deleted automatically once the officer logs off the device.

Announcing the initiative last year, Nick Hurd, the-then policing minister, said: “By cutting out unnecessary trips to and from the police station, mobile technology is really helping to save valuable time and allowing officers to do what they do best – cutting crime and keeping us safe.

“It’s clear that by embracing technology the police can improve efficiency and, if all forces delivered the level of productivity from mobile working as the leading forces, the average officer could spend an hour a day extra on the frontline.”

But Liberty said it had collected numerous testimonies from victims of crime “locked in to abuse and ill treatment”, because they feared reporting offences would result in detention or deportation.

It said that in 2017, a woman who was five months pregnant reported to police that she had been repeatedly raped – only to be arrested at a rape crisis on immigration grounds.

Furthermore, freedom of information responses had established that police forces are not recording why the person had had their identity checked

Most forces do not track the number of scans or matches made, but the Metropolitan Police revealed that, in less than 18 months – of 21,600 people scanned – more than 1,000 were matched to an immigration and asylum database.

Image from NHS Digital, Open Government Licence v3.0

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