By Daisy Luther
(In case you missed it…)
The Texas Department of Public Safety might as well be called the Texas Department of Public Invasiveness.
They’ve launched a plan to fingerprint every single person of driving age in the state, after which they will add the person’s prints to the criminal database.
Is it just me or is that a rather Dystopian plan?
Jon Cassidy of Watchdog.org writes:
The credit for breaking the news on those two items goes to consumer affairs columnist Dave Lieber of the Dallas Morning News, whose long-running “Watchdog” column often shows up in my Google Alerts, for obvious reasons.
As an old-school columnist, Lieber tends to keep his opinions subdued, and he doesn’t generally call people dishonest. But I have no problem with doing that, so I’d like to point out that the DPS spokesman he quotes at length is less than straightforward about his department’s legal authority.
Last month, Lieber broke the news that DPS had started collecting full sets of fingerprints on everyone who went in to renew their license.
Friday, he followed up with a story on DPS’ dubious legal authority to do so, and then posted lengthy quotations on the issue to his blog.
Lieber quotes an entire email from DPS spokesman Tom Vinger, who quotes Transportation Code Sec. 521.059 at length, including the key phrase, “The department shall establish an image verification system based on the following identifiers collected by the department: ….an applicant’s thumbprints or fingerprints.” (source)
So the gist of this is: if you don’t allow the “authorities” to take your prints and file them away in the event that you commit some heinous crime in the future, you won’t be issued a driver’s license in the state of Texas. This means you’d theoretically be unable to drive or get insurance, because you’d be unlicensed. If you can’t get insurance, it will be difficult to own a car. This, of course, could effect your livelihood, your ability to get your kids to school, and myriad other day-to-day issues. I’m a big fan of opting out, but this makes it a lot more difficult for the average Joe or Josephine to do so.
Doesn’t this sound like a pre-crime system, gathering evidence for the potential day in the future when they wish to use a person’s cataloged prints to identify them? At the very least, it is an invasion of personal privacy that is being enforced by hindering one’s ability to travel freely.
According to the laws on the books, it’s legal to take ONE print, but not a set of ten.
To get the full context, you’d have to go back to the original bill that was signed into law, and then look up the relevant section of law, which states that an application for a drivers’ license “must include: 1) the thumbprints of the applicant or, if thumbprints cannot be taken, the index fingerprints of the applicant.”
So that’s why the law mentions fingerprints – it’s index fingerprints, not a full set of 10 fingerprints. While the law mentions that those records can be used by law enforcement agencies investigating a crime, it doesn’t say anything about making them generally available in a criminal database.
According to Lieber, a political science professor at Texas Christian University named Donald W. Jackson, who has a new organization called the North Texas Civil Rights Project, is offering legal support if anybody wants to challenge this new policy in court. (source)
I bet a lot of Texans will have one particular fingerprint they’ll be happy to give – the middle one.
Hat tip to Kimo