Policing in the UK took a step forwards this week when the West Midlands Police Force became the latest to introduce a mobile device that can check people’s fingerprints in seconds.

Police Forces in the UK have been trialling the technology for more than two years. The scanners, which work in conjunction with a mobile phone, take a potential offender’s fingerprint and check them against the national database in seconds, while on the street.

The devices are made by 3M company Cogent Systems and use an optical sensor to scan prints and send them to a mobile phone via Bluetooth or USB connection. The prints are then sent for almost instantaneous identification – if the person has an existing conviction.

The technology has already been trialled throughout the country, and 350 of the devices have been in use in London since May. With London’s biggest free street party, the Notting Hill Carnival this weekend, revellers can expect to see the devices in action.

The big plus for the plod is that the scanners free up hours of time that is otherwise spent identifying suspects. The downside, as put by civil liberties watchdog Big Brother Watch, is that if you have ever had your prints taken by the UK police, there is little difference between the scanners and an ID card, which were deemed too unpopular to introduce by the current UK government.

Sensibly used and not abused, this type of technology, which isn’t amazingly hi-tech or innovative, can have a largely positive impact on society. It can for example aid the identification of unconscious or non-English speakers at the scene. But wariness of the power of biometrics combined with expansive databases is no bad thing either, especially when in the future such devices become more widespread and advanced.

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