news The New South Wales police force has gone to market for fingerprint scanners to add to its fleet of existing Samsung Galaxy Note 4 smartphones, as part of a national trend that is increasingly allowing law enforcement authorities to examine biometric data to verify identities in the field.
As first reported by iTnews, NSW Police last week issued a request for tender to seek fingerprint scanning solutions. When coupled with the force’s internal IT platforms over a mobile connection, the organisation said the new scanners would give it the ability to “identify and record offenders and/or persons of interest”. This would have the benefit of increasing fingerprint capture rates, confirming peoples’ identity in the field, and realising additional savings in police time and effort by processing offenders in the field.
The solution, which NSW Police stated must be “ruggedised” to deal with the demands of life out of the office — including hot days, rain and snow — would be able to deliver “real-time vital information”, including criminal history information, to assist with front-line policing in the field.
Although the required scanners must also be able to function when mobile data connections are down, NSW Police stated that the units must be able to connect to its in-house fleet of Samsung Galaxy Note 4 smartphones for mobile connectiveity.
NSW Police revealed in February ths year that it had deployed some 500 of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 handsets to police as part of a trial. It is not clear whether that trial has been extended ot the rest of the organisation’s police officers.
The news comes as other police organisations are also deploying fingerprint scanners around Australia.
In February 2014, for example, South Australia’s police force committed to deploying its own fingerprint scanner fleet — also attached to Android-based smartphones — that was to provide similar functionality as offered by the NSW solution. According to the project’s vendor, NEC, that deployment was the first time any Australian police force had implemented an identity management technology on a smartphone device.
However, such deployments are not without their critics.
For example, shortly after the South Australian deployment was announced, the Australian Privacy Foundation wrote to the South Australian Premier and Leader of the Opposition expressing strong concern about what it said was the “extreme” project.
“… the APF expresses the most serious concern about the proposal, and the manner in which it is being developed,” wrote APF chair Roger Clarke in the letter. “Any proposal to invade privacy of the physical person is extreme, and requires extreme justification. The necessary approach to such proposals in a democracy is for an evaluation to be performed.”
Other related technology is also being deployed by police forces around Australia — for example, on-body video camers worn by police officers, as well as tablet devices providing access to remote CCTV feeds, among other solutions.
I’m not sure whether NSW currently has any laws regarding the mandatory collection of fingerprint data by police officers — whether residents are able to withhold permission for such collection to take place.
But in general, I would repeat here the view that I expressed when South Australia announced its rollout. In short, I can see both the benefits and downsides of this technology:
“To be honest, I’m in two minds about this kind of deployment. On the one hand, I have to say that this precisely the kind of technology which we should expect Australian police officers to be deploying and using in 2014. Mobile fingerprint scanners have been around for years, and smartphones, with their mobile broadband connections and touchscreen interfaces make great interfaces to police databases of all kinds. This technology has the potential to make police forces much more efficient and productive, which is a great thing.
However, on the other hand, I have to say all this sounds a little Orwellian. Compelling people to hand over their fingerprints on the spot of a crime, without any due process? That sounds like a step too far; and almost goes into presumption of innocence. I think if a police officer asked me to hand over my fingerprints in the field for an ID check, I’d be asking to speak to my lawyer, pronto (well, in fact, as a journalist if a police officer asked me to do anything at any stage I would be asking to speak to my lawyer, but that’s by the by).
We need to balance out the potential usefulness of new policing technologies with the privacy implications of those new technologies. NEC and SA Police appear pretty gung ho about these new fingerprint scanners. But nowhere do I see an accompanying focus on maintaining the privacy of ordinary Australians. Being tough on crime is all well and good. But all too often, in today’s Australian society, that seems to mean also being tough on innocent people.”
I’m sure we’ll find out more about how this process is to work as time goes on.
Image credit: Samsung