London, Oct 27 : A new technology, in the form of mobile fingerprint scanners, would allow the police to carry out identity checks on people in the street.
According to a report in The Guardian, the technology, which ultimately may be able to receive pictures of suspects, is likely to be in widespread use within 18 months in the UK.
Tens of thousands of sets, which are as compact as Black Berry smartphones, are expected to be distributed.
The police claim the scheme, called Project Midas, will transform the speed of criminal investigations.
To address fears about mass surveillance and random searches, the police insist fingerprints taken by the scanners will not be stored or added to databases.
Liberty, the civil rights group, cautioned that the law required fingerprints taken in such circumstances to be deleted after use.
"Saving time with new technology could help police performance but officers must make absolutely certain that they take fingerprints only when they suspect an individual of an offence and can't establish his identity," said Gareth Crossman, Liberty's policy director.
Details of the type of equipment and the scope of its use have been revealed in a presentation by the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA).
The initial phase of the Mobile Identification At Scene (Midas) project, which had a cost of 30 million - 40 million pounds, will enable officers to perform rapid checks on the fingerprints of people arrested or detained.
The marks will be compared against records on Ident1, the national police database which holds information on 7.5 million individuals.
Geoff Whitaker, a senior technology officer with the NPIA, told the Biometrics 2008 conference that Project Midas would save enormous amounts of police time and reduce the number of wrongful arrests.
"One of the benefits is that it will reduce the number of errors, and we can reduce the number of arrests significantly," he said.
"There's a huge range of opportunities for mobile ID. It could be used on the deceased at the scene of a crime, on suspects for intelligence in the early part of an investigation, or even in a mortuary," he added.
Policing of big public occasions, sporting events, festivals, political conferences, as a well as immigration and border controls, could benefit from the equipment, suggested Whitaker.
"Another use is for prisoners in transit. It's not uncommon for prisoners to swap identities on the way to prison," he said.
According to Whitaker, Project Midas would give the police "a full, mobile national capability" to check identities.
The system is being designed to have the capacity to beam images of suspects back to officers on the streets to help confirm identifications.