Police Fingerprinting for Traffic Stops

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This article was published by Free-Market News Network, 2005-02-11.

Just when you thought it was safe to venture out on the road, visit scenic Lake Michigan, and get away from prying eyes in urban centers and corporate environments, the authorities have come up with a new way to invade your privacy. Police in Green Bay, Wisconsin, are now fingerprinting anyone that they pull over at a traffic stop — even for the most minor of traffic violations. This means that, should you be stopped by the Green Bay police for having a malfunctioning brake light, playing your car stereo too loud, or any other offense that would normally receive only a citation, they could record your fingerprint immediately.

The rationale (or rationalization) for this new procedure, is that the police claim to be seeing an "increasing use of false or fraudulent identification documents" (i.e., driver's licenses) during the past couple of years. They claim that they simply want to avoid the identity theft problem that they are seeing in Milwaukee, where apparently 13 percent of all traffic violators give a false name to the arresting officer.

However, this explanation could be charged as being equally fraudulent, considering that Green Bay experiences, on average, only five such cases per year. Some residents aren't buying that story either, telling interviewers that the law enforcement authorities are going too far with this new policy, as reported in an undated article appearing on the website of WBAY-TV, Northeast Wisconsin's channel 2 news.

Green Bay police counter these objections by pointing out that anyone pulled over has the right to refuse being fingerprinted. But consider what small percentage of the population would want to refuse the "request" of an armed police officer, especially one who is likely about to decide what if any traffic violations to cite the citizens for. In fact, considering how nervous most people are when pulled over by the police, it's easy to imagine that the majority of the people in that situation wouldn't remember that they actually do possess that right (assuming they have heard the facts beforehand), much less exercise their right of refusal (assuming the officer even mentions it to them).

The authorities also defend this new procedure by noting that the fingerprint goes no further than the ticket itself, is only used to verify identification should that be challenged in the future, and is not stored in any database.

Just give them time.

Copyright © 2005 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.

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