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.
Legislator is skeptical
“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.