Click to view image: 'You Have No Privacy!'
Bill ignites debate about privacy vs. cost savings
Motorists stopped for traffic violations in Tennessee could be fingerprinted if state lawmakers approve a bill pending in the legislature.
Currently, when drivers are cited during traffic stops, police officers ask for the driver's signature on the ticket, but the proposed bill would allow police departments to eliminate signatures and collect fingerprints.
Supporters say collecting fingerprints would save money and help police determine whether the driver is wanted for a criminal offense, but opponents worry that it allows the government to tread on individual privacy rights.
"The way I see it, if they take your fingerprint, they have access to your history and that's an invasion of privacy," said Martha Simms, 27, a mother of two who recently got a speeding ticket in Davidson County.
State Sen. Joe Haynes and State Rep. Mike Stewart co-sponsored the bill, which gives police departments the choice of collecting a signature or a fingerprint, or collecting a signature and a fingerprint. The bill has been approved by the state House of Representatives, and senators will vote on the measure Wednesday.
The bill, if passed, will take effect on July 1. At that time, any police department within the state could require fingerprinting as a means of identification, said Haynes, a Goodlettsville Democrat. "It's their discretion," he said.
Metro would use prints
If the bill is approved, the Metro Nashville Police Department plans to start requiring fingerprints by the end of the year. Police reports would be filed electronically, as would traffic and misdemeanor citations.
"This police department intends to use the fingerprint the same way as a signature is currently used," Metro police spokesman Don Aaron said. "If a person who has stolen someone's identity gives a wrong name, an officer will be able to catch that immediately. And, if they have an outstanding warrant, be it for a misdemeanor or a serious felony, an officer will be able to see that as well."
Instead of purchasing electronic signature pads to allow motorists to sign for traffic tickets, Metro wants to use electronic fingerprint readers because they cost about $500,000 less than signature pads.
"It makes sense for police to ultimately use an electronic method of keeping track of their data, and fingerprinting is less expensive than using signature identification software," said Stewart, a Nashville Democrat.
But citizen Simms rejects the cost-saving argument. "We're already paying taxes anyway and they always go up regardless. So, why not spend a little more and buy the signature pads instead,'' Simms said.
In Metro, 151,587 traffic citations were issued in 2007. On average, Metro police say, between 12,000 and 13,000 moving violations are issued per month.
Chris Stanley, 19, a student at Nashville Auto Diesel College, has received two tickets since moving to Nashville a year ago. "I wouldn't give them my fingerprint,'' he said. "They would have to arrest me."
According to Aaron, someone who refuses to provide a fingerprint will be arrested.
"It would be the same thing as a person not signing for a citation if they were stopped today," he said. "This department has no plans to create a database for all these fingerprints. They won't be captured and kept forever."
Legislator is skeptical
If police departments use the fingerprints as Metro intends, then that's enough reassurance for Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"As long as the police department is ensuring that it will not create a database using the fingerprints collected on traffic citations and that those fingerprints will be used only to identify the person being stopped and for no other purposes," Weinberg said, "then the police department appears to be using the technology appropriately."
But Rep. Stacey Campfield, a Knoxville Republican, is skeptical and takes issue with the legislation. "If someone said this 15 to 20 years ago, people would be rioting about it. Now it just seems like a lot of people are giving up and giving away their freedoms," Campfield said. "It's scary. I really think that these fingerprints will be used to create a database eventually, if not right away. If you don't think it is, then you're just kidding yourself."
If the bill passes, Tennessee would join other states and cities that have adopted fingerprinting for traffic citations.
The police department in Green Bay, Wis., has been fingerprinting traffic offenders for two years, said Lt. Mark Hellman. Some citizens were concerned at first, he said.
"I think they saw that it wasn't that big of deal, and that the ones who were most worried about it were likely the ones who were doing something wrong," Hellmann said. "What they didn't understand was that a routine traffic stop on the street is an arrest, technically, even if you aren't taken into physical custody, and during an arrest, you are fingerprinted."
Police in Phoenix have been collecting fingerprints since 1995, using them to prevent identity theft and to identify immigrants who are in the country illegally.
|Liveleak on Facebook|