Fingerprints, Goggles and GPS Apps: The World of Police Technology

When we think of police technology, we usually think of fingerprinting and DNA evidence, things that unfailingly manage to nail the bad guys in police procedurals on TV. In real life, though, what are the police using in their fight against crime?

The police have a history of using technology in their everyday work. Fingerprinting technology came about in the 1800’s, after Juan Vucetich, an Argentine police official, began keeping the first fingerprint files. With every person having an individual fingerprint, it became a tried and trusted method of identifying criminals. The use of DNA testing came much later, when in 1986 the fledgling technology was used to debunk the false confession of a teenage boy in the Midlands.

Technology is always evolving, and in the justice system it’s no different. New technology often helps crack older cases, such as recently when the 1981 murder of Carolyn Lee Andrew was solved by new DNA matching techniques.

Police technology has to keep up with the modern world, and in a recent demonstration given to the BBC, several new ideas were shown. Demonstrators used digital methods of collecting evidence, such as devices that could be plugged into laptops and recover important information. That information can then be used to build up a map of what had happened and who was involved.

The demonstration also showed off goggles, similar to Google Glass, that could capture and transmit images in real time. The idea is similar to that of body mounted cameras, which have been tentatively rolled out in several US states. With these recording devices, backers say, incidents such as the Ferguson riots could be avoided as the devices would record definitive proof of such events.

Others, however, are concerned that such advances give the police more surveillance but not necessarily more power in preventing crime. Privacy protection groups, such as Big Brother Watch, have said that cameras introduce ‘privacy intrusion’ into normal people’s lives. In an unusual twist, US police have voiced their own concerns about privacy with the Waze app. The Google GPS app allows users to tag the whereabouts of law enforcers on the roads, which, police argue, creates a ‘stalking app’ for those who wish to do the police harm.

These arguments have been challenged elsewhere online. The Atlantic points out that if somebody was intent on causing a police officer harm, it wouldn’t be difficult to find one, seeing as they congregate in clearly marked areas and are highly visible when working. As for body mounted cameras, developers have promised that the public will always be informed when they are in use, and will have red lights to notify others that they are in use.

As with most technology in recent years, the concerns around them centre around the intrusion into people’s daily lives. Arguably though, the police force are the one group of people who should be allowed to do so. How and to what degree, though, are a matter of debate.

Posted in Blog & News.