Immediate – Friday 5th March 2010
The National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) has announced that “Police officers across the country will soon be able to check an individual’s identity at the roadside.”  The announcement does not offer any relevant facts about the system being used, other than it saves officers half an hour compared with identifying a person by other means. But most people are not on police records and cannot be correctly identified this way. Unless you are reasonably suspected of an offence you cannot in any case be compelled to prove your identity to police.
Privacy group NO2ID  condemns the way the release uses one anecdote about the capture of a fugitive rapist to justify a significant change in the relationship between police and public. Instead of spinning emotive cases the NPIA should answer the following factual questions about the trial:
1. The fingerprints themselves are not retained, but what is done with other information about the stop? Is the fact of an individual being checked this way retained on any database?
2. What false match rates have been recorded in practice? 
3. What multiple match rates have been recorded in practice?
4. How many people were fingerprinted?
5. In how many cases did this lead to no further action?
6. How many people refused to ‘volunteer’?
7. How many people were arrested after having refused the ‘voluntary’ fingerprinting?
8. In how many cases did this lead to no further action?
9. How did rates of arrest and fingerprinting compare with those of equivalent stops not using the machine?
Phil Booth, National Coordinator of NO2ID said:
Saving police time is undoubtedly a good thing; but fingerprinting of people before arrest is generally a bad thing. This system makes that much more likely. Just how ‘voluntary’ is it going to be in practice?
The official assumption that checking people against a database at every opportunity is useful, means anyone who objects to the violation of their privacy and anyone marked by it as ‘known to police’ will be treated as a criminal. As they propose to use it, this machine is a suspicion generator.’
Notes for editors:
1) NPIA press release March 4 2010. Reported in, e.g.
2) NO2ID is the UK-wide non-partisan campaign against ID cards and the database state. See http://www.no2id.net/dbstate for a list of ‘database state’ initiatives that NO2ID is actively opposing, and http://www.no2id.net/datasharing for how it all fits together.
3) Any automatic biometric matching processes are statistical in nature. Matching a known individual to their own fingerprint ‘1 to 1′ matching, is fairly reliable, if not perfect, and can produce false negatives, where the system finds no match where there is one. Matching a random individual to a named fingerprint out of a large number, ‘1 to N’ matching, is a much more difficult problem, even if the individual is guaranteed to be among those in the database. It can produce both false negatives, and, more worryingly for this case, false positives, where the system declares the person fingerprinted close enough to be a match for one or more of the database when they are not.
For further information, or for immediate or future interview, please contact:
Phil Booth (National Co-ordinator, email@example.com) on 07974 230 839
Guy Herbert (General Secretary, firstname.lastname@example.org) on 07956 544 308
Michael Parker (Press Officer, email@example.com) on 07773 376 166