HOW DO THE SCANNERS WORK?
The mobile biometrics units a.k.a. fingerprint scanners are small devices that can be connected to any handheld device (phone, tablet, etc.). An app is used to check your fingerprint against the Police and Immigration databases. This is what they look like:
WHEN CAN AN OFFICER SCAN YOUR FINGERPRINTS?
Officers can only use the mobile devices to scan your fingerprints without your consent if:
- They witness you committing an offence or suspect you have committed an offence.
- You do not provide your details or they suspect you have provided a false name.
This power is granted under Section 61(6A) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) and further outlined in the PACE Code D (2017).
Fingerprints taken from mobile devices are not saved. If however you are arrested and taken into police custody, the police have the power to take your fingerprints (by force if necessary) and they will be saved on the police database.
WHAT CAN YOU DO IF AN OFFICER WANTS TO TAKE YOUR FINGERPRINTS?
If you are stopped:
- Ask why you have been stopped and whether you are suspected of committing an offence.
- Ask what offence they suspect you of committing and what their reasonable suspicion is based on.
An officer will likely ask you first to give your consent to have your fingerprint scanned, as this is the quickest way for them to run the check. You do NOT have to give your consent to have your fingerprints scanned. Remember:
- Police officers must first give you the opportunity to provide your name and address, and can only take your fingerprints if they have reasonable cause to believe those details are false.
- Ask why they believe you are providing false details and what their reasonable suspicion is based on.
- If you have a valid ID document that can prove your name and address, you DO NOT need to provide your fingerprints.
- If an officer insists, ask why they do not consider the ID you provided sufficient.
If they allege that you have committed an immigration offence, insist on being given a full explanation as to why they suspect you. Under the Equality Act 2010 it is illegal for an officer to stop you solely on grounds of your race, ethnicity or nationality.
- You have the right to film the interaction if you wish to. Police cannot forbid you from filming or take away your phone or camera.
- Remain calm and do not obstruct the police, as obstructing a police officer is an offence. If you are taken into custody, the police can take your fingerprints at the station and they will be saved on the police database.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOUR FINGERPRINTS ARE SCANNED
When your fingerprints are scanned:
- The app will check your fingerprint against the IDENT1 criminal record database and IABS immigration database. The fingerprint image will not be saved.
- If a match is returned from either of the two databases, your details will be brought up. That includes your name, date of birth, gender, nationality and Criminal Record Office (CRO) number if available.
- A Police National Computer (PNC) check can then be made directly from the app to bring up any past convictions or warrants.
- Once your identity is confirmed, depending on the situation, the police may arrest you for the offence you are suspected of, or consider alternatives to arrest (summons, fixed penalty notice, etc.), or release you.
- If your details are not on the database, the police will be unable to confirm your identity. They then may accept the details you have given them or arrest you for the offence you were suspected of.
IMPORTANT: the Immigration check will only confirm that your information has at some point been recorded for immigration matters, NOT that you are of interest, have committed an offence or are in breach of immigration regulations. Anyone who has ever obtained a VISA will, for example, have their fingerprints recorded on the IABS database.
If a match is returned from the Immigration check, the officer may decide to contact the Command and Control Unit (CCU), which is Immigration Enforcement’s 24/7 primary point of contact for police forces nationally. Depending on the information they are given:
- Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) teams may be dispatched and you might be taken to immigration detention or served papers and asked to report to a Home Office reporting centre.
- You may be arrested for an immigration offence unrelated to the offence you were stopped for.
Please see this detailed FAQ page on the Bail for Immigration Detainees website for more information about Immigration Detention.
Y-Stop is an excellent source of information about your rights around Stop and Search. It also includes an app that allows you to film your experience and submit anonymous complaints.