Police get access to fingerprints

2010-06-02 22:10

Cape Town - Legislation, among other things, giving the police access to the fingerprint databases of other government departments was approved in the National Assembly on Wednesday.

Speaking during debate on the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said the measure was intended to deal with fingerprint and DNA evidence shortcomings - two pivotal aspects of forensic crime fighting.

Despite the fact that a number of government departments administered fingerprint databases, SAPF currently, due to legal and information technology reasons, only had access to the fingerprints stored on the SAPF Afis system.

As a result, the police currently had no direct access to the Hanis home affairs system where the fingerprints of 41 million citizens and about 2.5 million foreigners were kept.

The police also did not have access to the transport department's eNatis system, where a further six million thumbprints were kept.

Radebe said the criminal justice system review office, through an analysis of a compendium of statistics, had found that in 52% of all crime cases in 2006/07, and in 46%  in 2007/08, the perpetrators remained undetected.

A further 11% of cases in 2006/07 and 13% in 2007/08 had been withdrawn before reaching court.

Convicted offenders

In addition, current legislation did not provide for compulsory taking of fingerprints, even in instances where a person had been convicted of an offence.

The minister said:  The manner in which fingerprints are currently collected, loaded into the police's database and used, means that a fingerprint lifted at a crime scene will most likely only be checked against the limited number of fingerprints of convicted offenders included in that database."

The bill intended to address all these shortcomings by ensuring that the police had access to the fingerprint databases of other government departments for criminal investigations only, and by expanding police powers to take and return fingerprints, bodyprints and photographic images of persons charged with or convicted of offences.

Radebe said the bill contained strict safeguards and penalties to ensure fingerprints, bodyprints and photographic images were collected, stored and used only for purposes related to detecting crime, investigating an offence, identifying missing persons and unidentified human remains, or conducting prosecutions.