Stop the scan: turning police into border guards

A police trial is linking street fingerprint scanning to immigration enforcement, writes Remi Joseph-Salisbury

July 7, 2019 · 3 min read

The police have rolled out mobile fingerprint scanners that allow officers to ‘stop and scan’ the fingerprints of people on the street. Funded by the Home Office, and trialled in West Yorkshire, these scanners have the capacity to search both crime and immigration databases on the spot. While the police have had fingerprint scanners for a long time, the links to immigration databases are a more recent and worrying development.

Police claim that fingerprint scanners will only be used when an officer suspects somebody is committing an offence and lying about their identity. With no checks against racism, we need only look at the history of policing and immigration control to see that this initiative will see certain communities treated with increased levels of suspicion, distrust and surveillance.

In terms of policing, we know that black communities are subject to racism at every level: more likely to be stopped and searched; more likely to be arrested; more likely to be tasered; more likely to be the victim of police brutality; and more likely to die after police contact. It seems likely, therefore, that these patterns will continue with the introduction of stop and scan.

In terms of immigration, too, the indicators are bleak. We know it is black and brown communities that have long since been subject to the whims of the state. It is black and brown communities that – as part of the British empire – were encouraged to move to the UK, and black and brown communities that have ever since been made to feel unwelcome. Contemporarily one need look no further than Britain’s detention centres, or at the destinations of deportation flights, to see how racism pervades immigration control. The Windrush scandal has demonstrated the devastating inaccuracies in Home Office databases, and while it is worth emphasising that no human being should be considered ‘illegal’, this underlines the dangers and inadequacies of ‘stop and scan’.

Whether subject to the longstanding stereotypes of the criminal or the so-called ‘illegal immigrant’, the linking of policing and immigration databases will see black and brown communities subject to the interlocking threats of detention, criminalisation, incarceration and deportation. We really have to ask what it feels like to be subject to such a constant barrage of suspicion. What kind of society subjects a group of its citizens to such incessant forms of social control and othering?

This redeployment of police as immigration enforcement officers is yet another blow for racial equality. However, as is always the case in the face of racist oppression, there is anti-racist resistance. After opposing the initiative’s pilot scheme in West Yorkshire, the Racial Justice Network and Yorkshire Resists have launched the #STOPtheSCANdal campaign. They are calling upon the police to:

• end the racist stop and scan initiative immediately, before it irreparably damages relations between police and communities;

• sever all connections between police activity and immigration databases, to prevent the police becoming an extension of border forces;

• keep fingerprint scanning as something that only happens in police stations following arrest, in order to protect citizen privacy rights; and

• publicly release the data captured in the West Yorkshire pilot, including its impact on axes of race, age and gender.

To support the campaign, check out, write to MPs, sign the petition and amplify the hashtag #STOPtheSCANdal

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