A Home Office department is fingerprinting under-fives, and may include babies, in a biometrics ID scheme. The trial ends the department’s technological taboo on enrolling very young children in identity checks.
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Details of the scheme emerged after the Home Office released an internal report under the Freedom of Information Act, which contained a section on fingerprinting under-fives.
The UK could be one of the first countries to fingerprint under-fives – and possibly the first. When Malaysian police last year proposed fingerprinting of babies there were strong protests from civil liberties groups in the country.
If the trial is successful, it could encourage the government to consider gathering fingerprints from very young children for passport applications. The legal framework exists for this to happen.
Very young children have in the past been considered unsuitable for fingerprinting because their newly-formed fingers stretch too quickly for a one-off capture of data to yield a reliable historical record.
But the internal Home Office report refers to developing algorithms to enhance the performance of systems for under-fives.
The Home Office confirmed it has been fingerprinting all children under five at its asylum screening unit in Croydon – where the Immigration and Nationality Department has its headquarters – and its Liverpool centre.
A spokeswoman said, “Fingerprinting is an established biometric technology that is known to work with very young children and for which there is already an established legal framework.” She added that there was no minimum age for fingerprinting in the trials.
The report for the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, entitled Co-ordination and Management of Biometrics, warned there were possible drawbacks with fingerprinting. Depending on the technology used, those being fingerprinted may have to be “man-handled”. It also warned that some people and cultures may object to touching sensors used by others.
Application registration cards – described as the UK’s first biometrics ID card – are issued to all asylum seekers. Biometrics from very young children and babies could be incorporated into these cards.
Asylum seekers with families gain preferential treatment for their applications. The aim of fingerprinting under-fives is to close a loophole that authorities said could allow a single child to be used by multiple asylum applicants feigning parenthood.