Headlines: August 4th, 1999

The police are to be equipped with new technology to combat crime and Home Secretary Jack Straw is seeking views on proposals to introduce supporting legislation. The legal changes are necessary to ensure that the law keeps pace with technology, while preserving individual rights.

Hand held fingerprint scanning technology will allow fingerprints to be taken by police officers on patrol. They will be able to tap into a national fingerprint database, capable of comparing over one million fingerprints every second. This will make it easier and quicker to identify criminals. Breakthroughs in DNA technology will make it possible for offenders to be matched to scenes of crime through microscopic samples of no more than two or three human cells – sometimes years after the event.

The consultation paper sets out proposals that will allow the police to make full use of the developments in technology. The provisions include the power to take fingerprints away from police stations without consent and to permit the retention and use of DNA samples and the information derived from them with a volunteer’s written consent. Currently sample must be destroyed. It is also proposed that power should be given to compare fingerprints and DNA samples with databases overseas.