Saturday, March 07, 2015

Lege should make DPS expunge improperly taken fingerprints

"The state should not be collecting a full set of fingerprints from citizens who are not suspected of committing any crime," declared state Sen. Charles Schwertner as he laid out SB 398 on Wednesday in the Senate Transportation Committee. Good on him.

His bill clarifies that DPS cannot collect all ten fingerprints from drivers when they obtain or renew their licenses, limiting them to collecting thumbprints or index prints if the former is impossible. DPS began gathering all ten last year then stopped last month when legislators threatened to file this bill. DPS first took thumbprints beginning in 2005, then took all ten fingerprints, and now as of two weeks ago take both index prints, according to the discussion among senators.

Two items stuck out from the brief hearing (you can watch it here, first bill up). First, Sen. Van Taylor corroborated Grits's memory of the legislative history on this topic. He had spoken over the summer to former state Rep. Frank Corte, who'd authored the provision in question. Corte told him he had tried to give DPS the authority to collect all ten fingerprints in 2003 and the bill died on the floor of the House. Then, in 2005, he passed HB 2337 which (they thought) was narrowly drafted and limited collection to two prints. (I thought one would do, but I didn't get a vote) Indeed, Taylor pointed out, Corte specifically said in committee as he laid out HB 2337 that it did not expand DPS' authority beyond thumbprints.

That was certainly my recollection, as a participant drumming up opposition to the measure back in the day. In the early days of this blog, Grits described the House floor vote that rejected SB 945 (Ogden) by a tally of 111-26, an overwhelming margin when you consider 1) Chairman Corte was part of the leadership team in a GOP majority which had just taken power for the first time since Reconstruction and 2) this was the first session of the Texas Legislature after 9/11 and limitations on potential security measures were often a hard sell that year.

 Indeed, it's worth recalling that, as originally drafted, SB 945 would have allowed DPS to gather "any biometric identifier," not just all ten fingerprints. Suggestions floating around at the time for additional biometrics included iris scans and voice recordings that could be matched with information from wiretaps. The civil liberties fights post-9/11 were pretty extreme and intense by comparison with today, when the Tea Party faction of the GOP would have already murdered these bills in the crib by this point in session.

All that to say, Grits thought it was completely disingenuous for DPS to fabricate the trumped up legislative intent by which they justified this move and appreciated Sen. Taylor clarifying with Mr. Corte exactly what happened.

A gap in the bill was raised by Sen. Sylvia Garcia: The legislation eliminates any possibility of DPS taking all ten fingerprints going forward, but the bill does not require them to redact fingerprints they collected over the last year.

Sen. Schwertner didn't have an answer as to how many people had all their fingerprints taken, but it's possible to guesstimate. People have to renew their drivers licenses once every seven years, so in just more than a year's time, about one seventh of all Texas drivers would have had their licenses come up for renewal. As this legislation moves through the process, I hope they'll amend it to require DPS to expunge that data.

Lon Kraft of the Texas Municipal Police Association registered that group's opposition to the bill, which struck me as a fool's errand. He didn't offer oral testimony, but it's no secret that, in their heart of hearts, law enforcement would like access to full sets of fingerprints of all adult Texans, not just those who committed crimes. However, most LEOs aren't so tone deaf as to announce such views in public. This isn't 2003 and that stance wouldn't fly even then.


Simran said...

What I dislike is when you get your license, you have give fingerprints. For what? I don't want too. I'll pay your street tax called a "Driver's License" and that's it. Keep my money(although I disagree with it), but don't log anything else about me. Okay? kthxbai!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

It was implemented after 9/11 to prevent DL fraud because the 19 Saudis who flew planes into the buildings had fake IDs. A thumbprint was the compromise and somehow it became two, then all. The definition of a slippery slope.

Tscc said...

The erosion of privacy surrounding 9/11 in retrospect is shocking. 9/11 provided the perfect scenario for the government to stick their hand uo our metaphorical dresses in such a way that most didn't object. They continue to chip away at the stone of our privacy at every opportunity they have, and will until they achieve what they want- that being to know who and where we are and what we are doing at any given moment. It is encouraging to see that there is some push back these days, but we'll ever have the privacy we enjoyed prior to 9/11.
The fingerprints collected in a license renewal should be limited to the purpose of identifying that person for license or driving purposes, example someone with no other ID who was killed in a wreck, and should not be admissible otherwise. Many banks and now cellphones and computers password protect with fingerprints, so it brings into the equation 4th Amendment issues as well.

Anonymous said...

I would probably have complained more about this but the state got all of my prints when I applied for a law license. How did a bunch of freedom defenders allow this nonsense?