Australian state cops eye fingerprint biometrics

Von Michael Crawford

The police in the Australian state of New South Wales is set to introduce portable, handheld fingerprint scanners by the end of 2006.

Tenders are likely to be issued early next year with the proposal currently awaiting approval from the NSW Treasury.

Static biometric devices, known as LiveScan, are already in use in NSW and Victorian Police stations, provided by French electronics company Sagem, which is a supplier to military organizations across the globe.

However, NSW Police is keen to see the introduction of portable biometric devices that can be used during routine traffic infringements for on-the-spot identity checks.

The devices, showcased in Sydney at a recent launch of its new mobile phones, hold up to 100,000 fingerprints and are extremely light and rugged and ideal for law enforcement use, Sagem officials said.

A NSW Police spokesperson confirmed a submission has been made to Treasury and if approved, a "tender document will be issued for all parties interested in providing a submission".

A Treasury spokesperson confirmed the proposal is on the agenda, adding that portable fingerprint devices are "among a list of five or six priorities".

While NSW is keen to go ahead with portable biometrics, a spokesperson for the Victorian Police fingerprint branch ruled out its use at this stage.

Only last year the Victorian Police amended the Crimes Act 2004 to accommodate the use of static, LiveScan units in police stations across the state.

A spokesperson for the Victorian Minister for Police, Timothy Holding, said the fixed fingerprint machines were only introduced last June so there were no plans to extend their use outside of police stations.

The Queensland Police is introducing static LiveScan systems in mid-November and have no immediate plans for portable devices. The NSW Minister for Police, Carl Scully was unavailable for comment.

A spokesperson for Sagem said the portable LiveScan units are very new to the market and not yet commercially available in Australia. The official said the devices will be available locally by the end of this year.

LiveScan technology also forms the basis of the federal law enforcement CrimTrac system, an automated fingerprint identification system. This is a central database of 2.4 million records and 180,000 prints from unsolved crime scenes, according to the CrimTrac Web site. Sagem won the A$14.8 million (US$11.2 million) contract in January 2000.

(Sandra Rossi of Computerworld Today Australia contributed to this report.)