Fingerprint scanner use raises privacy concerns in N.C.

Newsobserver | December 8, 2010

By Thomasi McDonald

RALEIGH — Next month, 13 law enforcement agencies in the region will begin using a new handheld device that lets an officer scan a person’s fingerprints and seek a match in an electronic database – all without going anywhere.

Police say taking fingerprints in the field will allow them to work more efficiently and safely. But the ACLU North Carolina in Raleigh worries that the device may allow officers to violate privacy rights.

The ACLU is concerned about what will become of fingerprint scans that are sent to other databases, such as the National Crime Information Center.

“Part of the danger is the idea of the government creating a database on its citizens,” said Sarah Preston, policy director for ACLU North Carolina. “Citizens should be allowed some degree of privacy.”

But those concerns are unwarranted, said Sam Pennica, director of the City-County Bureau of Identification, the agency that processes fingerprints in Wake County and is providing the devices to local agencies. The software for the device, known as Rapid Identification COPS Technology, would not store fingerprints of any individuals, even those charged with a crime, Pennica said.

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