Written evidence submitted by The Racial Justice Network (MAC0018)


  1. The Racial Justice Network is a charity based in West Yorkshire that brings together over thirty organisations and individuals across the region to proactively promote racial justice. Our organisation aims to raise awareness about, and mobilise around, racial inequality and injustice by listening and working with disempowered communities, taking positive action for justice and solidarity.


  1. Our evidence concerns the disproportionate use of Mobile Biometrics devices by Police, and in particular West Yorkshire Police, on individuals from BAME communities.


  1. We urge the Committee to consider the evidence we provide below despite some of the data pertaining to the period between October 2018 and March 2019, as the FOI data and our analysis of it were not available when the Committee last . The disproportionate impacts of this technology on BAME people are ongoing, and its use has been significantly expanded in the past 12 months.


Mobile Biometrics


  1. Mobile biometrics devices are handheld fingerprint scanners that police officers can use to check, on the spot, a person’s identity by matching the image of the fingerprint taken against the IDENT1 criminal record database and the Home Office Immigration Database (IABS), without taking the individual into custody. The scanners can be connected to any mobile phone or tablet that also runs the corresponding App which allows the biometrics databases to be searched. A number of forces, including West Yorkshire Police (WYP) use the Mobile Biometrics App available within Motorola’s Pronto operating software.[1]


  1. The use of these scanners is regulated under Section 61(6A) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) and further outlined in the PACE Code D (2017). The use of the scanners differs from Stop and Search in that officers can only scan the fingerprints of an individual in case that:


        An offence has been committed (or suspected to have been committed); and either no name is provided by the individual OR the name provided is suspected to be false.

        The individual lacks mental capacity and their identification is required for their own best interest (Mental Capacity Act 2005)

        Identification of a body is required.


  1. Section 61 PACE and Code D also provide officers with the power to take a fingerprint by force by virtue of Section 117 of the Act.


  1. The scanners and affiliated software were trialled by West Yorkshire Police in February 2018: 250 devices replaced the old Lantern devices that had been previously used for identification away from a police station[2]. The main differences compared to the old devices, which mark the use of the new model as a significant change in police practices, are:


        checks are conducted live on the biometric databases, rather than on a cached copy

        the inclusion of the Home Office Immigration database in the search

        drastically reduced costs which allow many more officers to be equipped with the handheld devices


  1. The technology was rolled out nationally in April 2019 despite no Equality Impact Assessment having taken place with regards to  how its trial in West Yorkshire impacted BAME communities. As of November 2019, 22 out of 43 forces had adopted the use of these devices.[3]


Disproportionality of use on BAME people


  1. Our analysis of data obtained via FOI[4] on the use of mobile biometrics in West Yorkshire during the latter phase of the pilot, between October 2018 and March 2019, showed that they have been disproportionately used on BAME[5] people. In particular:


        White British and Irish people make up 79% of the population of West Yorkshire[6], but accounted for only 51% of people who had their fingerprints scanned.

        Overall, there were 2 uses of the scanners per 10,000 White British and Irish people, compared with 6.5 uses per 10,000 BAME people. In other words, BAME people were more than 3 times more likely to be stopped and have their fingerprints scanned than White British and Irish people.[7]

        In particular, Black people (B1, B2, B9) were stopped and scanned at a rate of 7 per 10,000 people.

        Similarly, Asian Pakistani, which are the biggest non-white ethnic group in West Yorkshire (8.5% of the population), accounted for 21% of uses of the mobile scanners, at a rate of 7.5 per 10,000 people.

        Not included under the BAME grouping in our analysis was category W9 (White - Any other White background): although there is no data available on the nationality breakdown of this group, the largest non-British white communities in West Yorkshire are Polish, Romanian and Slovakian[8], which include a sizable Roma population. This group had one of the highest rates of use of fingerprint scanners, 15.3 per 10,000 people.

        In 96 instances (12% of the total) in which the scanners were used, the ethnicity was not recorded.


  1. Despite the clearly disproportionate use of the technology on individuals of BAME background during the pilot, no assessment or analysis was carried out by the Home Office or WYP before the devices were rolled out nationally.


  1. Initially, WYP and the Police and Crime Commissioner seemed open to engage with The Racial Justice Network (RJN) in order to address the ethical concerns we had raised. However, several meetings were held for more than a year with the Police and Crime Commissioner, who repeatedly promised to provide us with answers and data in response to our specific concerns, which ultimately never materialised.


  1. Despite agreeing that there could be ethical and discriminatory consequences following the use of the scanners, we felt that WYP was more concerned with appearing to be engaging with our concerns rather than with finding a solution.


  1. RJN was also told that no other police force in the country had been engaging in consultations with communities over the introduction of this technology.


  1. RJN was offered a seat on a new Scrutiny Panel that would be created to oversee the use of mobile biometrics; this was declined, as it seemed that the creation of the panel itself was seen as sufficient enough to address the issues, despite the panel not having any power to affect change in how the force would use the devices.


  1. Although RJN had received a promise from the Commissioner that the national rollout would not go ahead until the ethical and equity concerns, especially regarding the Immigration Database search capabilities of the devices, in the last in-person meeting held between RJN and WYP in April 2019 it was announced that the devices were being rolled out nationally, with our warnings going unheeded.


Police officers carrying out immigration checks


  1. When a police officer runs a check against the Immigration database they will find a match on the IABS database for any individual who is in the country on a visa, Indefinite Leave to Remain, or is an asylum seeker or refugee. Police officers are not privy to any information about the immigration record of the individual: as per guidance, if the officer suspects that they are a person of interest to Immigration Enforcement, they must contact the Command and Control Unit (CCU) immediately[9]. Police guidance itself highlights that police officers are not equipped to identify or understand an individual’s immigration status, and that no action should be taken without first talking to CCU. However, it is still left to the officer’s discretion whether a check against the immigration database is needed, and whether the individual is likely to be a person of interest to Immigration Enforcement; it is hard to envision how such decisions can be taken without an element of racial profiling involved.


  1. Guidance on the use of mobile biometrics is inconsistent across police forces. While WYP has laid out in its guidance that searches on the immigration database should only be conducted when there are grounds to suspect that the suspect is an immigration offender[10], Sussex police strongly recommends that both databases be selected in order to complete a thorough enquiry.[11] We also have concerns that training provided to officers is insufficient and only restricted to the use of the technology itself, and not on the impacts of using such technology in very diverse communities. We have, for example, anecdotal evidence that officers have not always accepted foreign identity documents as valid proof of identity, such as EU Driving Licences, despite guidance instructing them otherwise.


  1. The dangers of police officers being seen as carrying out Immigration Enforcement checks and duties are well documented, both in terms of damaging relations between BAME people and Police, but also in dissuading victims of crime to come forward if they are uncertain of their immigration status. It is worrying then, that no consultation with communities was carried out before equipping thousands of officers who are untrained in immigration matters with the ability to run on-the-spot immigration checks.


  1. In addition, the Pronto operating software which includes the Mobile Biometrics App has been updated with a COVID-19 Ticketing App for issuing the Fixed Penalty Notices[12] introduced by the new Coronavirus Bill on March 26th, 2020. Liberty’s report showed that BAME communities are twice more likely to be fined and suffer from the excessive use of force.[13] By early May 2020, 599 fines had been issued in West Yorkshire, only  38.2% of which were issued to White residents.[14]


  1. We are concerned about the possibility that fingerprint scanners may have been used in conjunction with the COVID-19 Ticketing App, thus compounding the unequal impact of the pandemic on people of BAME background with the added discriminatory use and lack of accountability of this new police technology.
  2. Furthermore, despite the publicity that the Windrush scandal has brought to the Home Office’s systemic failure to keep accurate immigration records, no consideration was taken of the well-known issues with the accuracy of data held by Immigration Enforcement and their record keeping.  In these circumstances, a direct line from police officers running day-to-day police operations and a potentially wrong decision being made by Immigration Enforcement represents a serious risk for migrants, the vast majority of which are BAME, and Black and Brown Britons who are mistakenly caught up in the hostile environment. In plainer terms, ending up detained indefinitely in an immigration detention centre, lawfully or unlawfully, as a consequence of being stopped for a minor traffic offence is a scenario that will never be a reality for White Britons, but a clear possibility for people of BAME background.


  1. From our many conversations with the West Yorkshire Police and the Police and Crime Commissioner, it was clear that this obvious discrepancy in how the use of this new technology was going to impact BAME communities was never considered. And once brought to their attention by us, summarily dismissed.





  1. Our recommendations are:


        That all mobile biometrics devices be removed from police usage entirely while its disproportionate use on people from BAME backgrounds, and more broadly the issue of racial profiling in police operations, remains unaddressed.

        That police technology should have no direct link to the immigration database and that queries to Command and Control Units should be halted as long as the data flaws evidenced by the Windrush scandal are still in existence.

        That police forces institute a “firewall” between victims and witnesses of crime and Immigration Enforcement (i.e. that police will not query their immigration status and/or share their data with Immigration Enforcement), so that people can feel safe to come forward.



June 2020

[1] https://www.motorolasolutions.com/en_xu/products/command-center-software/records-and-evidence/pronto.html

[2] https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/west-yorkshire-police-trial-new-mobile-fingerprint-technology/42433/

[3] https://www.libertyhumanrights.org.uk/issue/mobile-fingerprint-scanners-bring-a-dangerous-new-front-to-the-hostile-environment/

[4] https://www.westyorkshire.police.uk/sites/default/files/foi/2019-07/foi_2308-19_biometric_scanners_june_2019.pdf

[5] The following Self-Defined Ethnicity (SDE) codes were included in the BAME grouping: A1, A2, A3, A9, B1, B2, B9, M1, M3, M9, O1, O9.

[6] According to 2011 Census data.

[7] Rate calculated using 2011 Census data of the population of West Yorkshire, available at:

[8] Data obtained from the NINo Registrations to Adult Overseas Nationals Entering the UK statistics available at https://stat-xplore.dwp.gov.uk/ and Migration Yorkshire local migration profiles available at https://www.migrationyorkshire.org.uk/?page=statistics

[9]Page. 6 https://www.westyorkshire.police.uk/sites/default/files/mobile_biometrics_0.pdf

[10]Page. 6 https://www.westyorkshire.police.uk/sites/default/files/mobile_biometrics_0.pdf

[11]Page 4, paragraph 9.1, https://www.sussex.police.uk/SysSiteAssets/foi-media/surrey/policies/mobile-fingerprint-identification.pdf

[12] https://emergencyservicestimes.com/new-pronto-mobile-apps-help-police-forces-practice-social-distancing-2/

[13] https://libertyinvestigates.org.uk/articles/bame-people-disproportionately-targeted-by-coronavirus-fines/

[14] West Yorkshire Police Independent Advisory Group meeting, 13th May 2020