The News and Observer reports on a new program in North Carolina where law enforcement officers will carry handheld fingerprint scanners. Last year, the Washington Post reported on the increasing use of such mobile biometric collection devices. (They are also being used internationally: In 2008, officials in the United KingdomÂ expanded the use of mobile fingerprint scanners to all police forces. AustraliaÂ began using handheld scanners in 2006.)
The handheld scanners make it easier to identify individuals, which is why the police are using them. But, that ease also gives unscrupulous officers incentive to fake reasons to demand that individuals submit their fingerprints. In North Carolina, as in other states, the law enforcement officials say that the fingerprint collection will be voluntary, but I doubt people being asked to submit their fingerprints will feel comfortable saying no.
The News and Observer reports:
Next month, 13 law enforcement agencies in the region will begin using a new handheld device that lets an officer scan a person’s fingerprints and seek a match in an electronic database – all without going anywhere.
Police say taking fingerprints in the field will allow them to work more efficiently and safely. But the ACLU North Carolina in Raleigh worries that the device may allow officers to violate privacy rights.
The ACLU is concerned about what will become of fingerprint scans that are sent to other databases, such as the National Crime Information Center. […]
But those concerns are unwarranted, said Sam Pennica, director of the City-County Bureau of Identification, the agency that processes fingerprints in Wake County and is providing the devices to local agencies. The software for the device, known as Rapid Identification COPS Technology, would not store fingerprints of any individuals, even those charged with a crime, Pennica said. […]
Pennica said he would send ACLU North Carolina a packet this week, outlining how, and under what circumstances, the device will be used by law officers. He noted that state law does not allow officers to coerce or threaten a person with arrest for refusing to submit to a fingerprint scan.