IoT on the beat: Met Police develop mobile fingerprinting device
Met Police commissioner Cressida Dick speaks to her officers.

IoT on the beat: Met Police develop mobile fingerprinting device

The Metropolitan Police has become the first British force to develop its own mobile fingerprinting device, in a move designed to save officers time and the public money.

The mobile biometric device, named INK (Identity Not Known) Biometrics, scans suspects’ fingerprints and will confirm their identity within 60 seconds if they are listed on police databases, according to the Met.

This enables faster apprehension of wanted offenders, and keeps officers on the beat for longer by avoiding the need to return to base to take suspects’ prints – which also frees up custody space at local stations.

Although similar technology has been used by the Met and other forces since 2012, the new in-house developed device is significantly cheaper, which allows six times as many to be deployed. Six hundred will be rolled out to frontline police across London over the next six months, according to an announcement from the police – roughly one for every 50 officers.

IoT on the move

The portable device comprises software produced by Met staff, deployed on an Android smartphone and paired with a Crossmatch fingerprint reader.

INK communicates securely with the Home Office-developed Biometric Services Gateway (BSG), which searches the Criminal Records Office and immigration enforcement databases.

Met Police commissioner Cressida Dick welcomed the rollout, saying: “I have always been clear in my ambition to make the best possible use of technology to fight crime. The speed of analysis of information that this device will offer will drive effectiveness and efficiency and allow officers to spend more time in our communities and fighting crime.

“This new technology was developed from the ground up with the full involvement of our officers and, as we move forward, we need more people like them to join us with their tech-savvy, innovative thinking.

“I hope this shows potential officer recruits that policing is fully embracing the digital age and that they can be part of an exciting future.”

The in-house system was built and tested by the Met’s Digital Policing division and the Transformation Directorate. The devices are designed to be simple to use and rechargeable in a police vehicle.

INK will save an estimated £200,000 in support costs per annum, according to the police announcement.

Internet of Business says

As controversy rages over the use of other connected technologies in law enforcement – such as facial recognition systems, which have often been found to be inaccurate due to poor, ethnically biased training data – the return to fingerprinting seems like an obvious solution.

But even this method isn’t foolproof. The Home Office has said that the response delivered from a captured fingerprint is 98.5 percent accurate, meaning that one in 7,000 captured fingerprints may return incorrect details. This may be due to marks on the finger, as well as the conditions in which the print is captured.

While any solution that helps police do their jobs better, more accurately, and more cost-effectively is welcome – especially if it keeps officers on the beat – the increased public visibility of connected technologies in law enforcement is a mixed blessing.

As officers increasingly become ‘armed’ with cameras, fingerprint readers, drones, sensors, and other technologies – including predictive AI – some people may feel that law enforcement is becoming unnecessarily invasive.

The need to balance enforcement with positive public relations will be increasingly important in the always-on age, if the police are to ease public fears – especially when technologies are being used to automate biases and/or target minorities, as some commentators have alleged.

More on these issues in the following Internet of Business reports:

Chris Middleton
Chris Middleton is former editor of Internet of Business, and now a key contributor to the title. He specialises in robotics, AI, the IoT, blockchain, and technology strategy. He is also former editor of Computing, Computer Business Review, and Professional Outsourcing, among others, and is a contributing editor to Diginomica, Computing, and Hack & Craft News. Over the years, he has also written for Computer Weekly, The Guardian, The Times, PC World, I-CIO, V3, The Inquirer, and Blockchain News, among many others. He is an acknowledged robotics expert who has appeared on BBC TV and radio, ITN, and Talk Radio, and is probably the only tech journalist in the UK to own a number of humanoid robots, which he hires out to events, exhibitions, universities, and schools. Chris has also chaired conferences on robotics, AI, IoT investment, digital marketing, blockchain, and space technologies, and has spoken at numerous other events.