Police use of fingerprint scanners disproportionately targets black Britons


Fingerprint scans by the Met peaked in May at 3,566, or about 115 per day. This is the highest number the Met has achieved since November 2018. However, the Met blames technology issues for the sudden increase. “There was a problem for a short time in May with the Home Office Gateway while using the INK device,” the spokesperson said. “This meant that officers had not received a response to a scan, which often resulted in them resubmitting the search. “

In some police forces, black Britons are between three and 18 times more likely to be arrested and scanned than their white counterparts. Data from seven police forces include analyzes done by ethnicity – Surrey, North Hampshire, Derbyshire, City of London, Leicestershire, Devon and Cornwall and West Yorkshire. Other police forces said they could not provide the data or did not record it.

Across the seven zones, the data shows that among communities of color, and particularly blacks, the volume of per capita scans was significantly higher than that of white communities within the same police zone.

Police in Devon and Cornwall have the worst record – blacks being 23 times more likely to be scanned than whites. Data is limited as a racial breakdown was only provided for 208 scans. Matthew Longman, the chief superintendent of the force, acknowledged the racial disparities seen in stopping and sweeping practices in the police area and said his force was actively working to address it, including piloting a new program. training that deals with unconscious biases.

“What the world is telling us right now, and these community voices are telling us right now, is that we need to explore unconscious bias. I don’t think – there may be bad apples in an organization of 5,500 people – but overall I don’t think my officers go out and make decisions purely based on race, ”says Longman. “But we could live in systems or processes that create this unconscious bias. And we need to make it a conscious bias so that we can remedy it and adjust our behaviors accordingly. “

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In the Surrey police region, blacks were 18 times more likely to be arrested than whites – the second largest disparity in the country. In West Yorkshire, with the fewest disparities, blacks were still 3.4 times more likely to be arrested and scanned than whites.

“This technology can only be used when an offense (or suspected offense) has been committed and the identity is in doubt,” said a spokesperson for Surrey Police. They add that the force is “extremely aware and very sensitive” to concerns about racism within the police service.

A West Yorkshire Police spokesperson said that in 2019 the force worked with the Racial Justice Network – a West Yorkshire-based community organization founded to ‘proactively promote racial justice’ – on a volunteered to assure the general public that the devices were used fairly and, as such, had started recording data on suspected ethnicity with the aim of monitoring the use of its biometric devices.

Many other law enforcement agencies claim that although race-based data for fingerprints exists in their jurisdiction, they would be unable to provide it as the information is not centrally aggregated and instead is kept in officers’ portfolios. .

Since the first privacy impact assessment published in 2017, the Home Office has attempted to assure the general public that the fingerprint scanners it has developed will eliminate biometric information once scans are scanned. completed. But many UK civil rights groups have rejected the deployment of these devices because they say it gave frontline police officers mobile access to IABS, Britain’s immigration database, turning police officers into border guards. As such, they feared that these devices would be used to disproportionately target ethnic minorities.


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