Sheriff orders fingerprinting when traffic citations issued
ASSOCIATED PRESS | February 3, 2005
By Beth Defalco
PHOENIX – Sheriff's deputies in the Phoenix area on Thursday began asking drivers getting ticketed for certain traffic violations to provide their fingerprints, drawing criticism from civil rights activists.
The fingerprinting is part of a pilot program that Sheriff Joe Arpaio says will help fight identity theft in Phoenix. The city has the highest per-capita rate of identity theft complaints in the country, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
The fingerprinting would help identify people with stolen or falsified driver's licenses, the sheriff said. It also ensures that innocent people whose identities are stolen do not get charged with crimes they did not commit.
Arpaio said the new procedure is designed to ensure the person who committed the offense is the same person being charged with a crime in the courtroom.
"It's a huge problem and law enforcement needs to be proactive in fighting it," Arpaio said.
Deputies started carrying inkless fingerprint pads and were asking for a thumbprint from drivers given criminal tickets – such as those issued for excessive speeding. Most moving violations are civil offenses and thus not part of the program.
Arpaio stressed that giving fingerprints would be voluntary, but constitutional law experts and civil rights groups were quick to point out problems with the program. Many doubted whether drivers would understand that they were not required to give their fingerprint.
They also questioned how fingerprints would ultimately be used.
"The sheriff doesn't have the right to make that extra intrusion on someone's privacy under the state constitution," said Paul Bender, a constitutional law professor at Arizona State University.
Eleanor Eisenberg, executive director for the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, called the fingerprint program "an example of putting the cart before the horse."
The chapter was looking into whether the program infringes on privacy rights, Eisenberg said.
"The standard is not whether we have anything to hide," she said, "It's 'Does the government have a right to invade our privacy?'"