Australia May Expand Police Fingerprinting Powers

Law Enforcement BiometricsSouth Australian Attorney-General, John Rau, is seeking to expand police powers with respect to fingerprint scanning, according to a Herald Sun article by Nigel Hunt. His proposed new legislation will allow police to demand on-the-spot fingerprint scans from citizens, with penalties for refusal including a fine of up to $1250 or a maximum of three months in prison.

It’s an expansion from current rules restricting fingerprint scanning to those who have already been arrested, and police would need to have “reasonable cause” to perform the scans. While the legislation has yet to be reviewed and officially implemented, police across the country are already equipping themselves with the needed hardware, with 150 portable fingerprint scanning devices being deployed across the country. That development follows on a trial run last year that satisfied police with the utility of the devices.

Still, there are concerns. The country’s Law Society has expressed misgivings about the new legislation, its president having stated that he has “strong concerns” that fingerprint scanning “is a serious intrusion on privacy and should only be justified in extreme cases, which is why the current position only allows authorities to compel a scan after a person has been arrested.”

Indeed, even in more innocuous deployments the practice can prove controversial, as in the case of San Francisco city workers who have rallied against the implementation of fingerprint-scanning employee attendance systems. In Australia, there could be an even bigger cultural resistance to such intrusions, given the debate that has arisen over the government’s consideration of a biometric citizen database for border security purposes.

March 20, 2015 – by Alex Perala