Identity theft is sweeping the country, and Arizona seems to be the epicenter. The criminal justice system must be doing everything possible — within the Constitution — to counter this crime wave that is destroying people’s finances and reputations.
The caveat about the Constitution must not be overlooked, however, and that is why Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s program to have motorists who are pulled over for traffic violations "voluntarily" be fingerprinted should be halted immediately.
That is because, notwithstanding the "voluntary" aspect, it presumes the motorist may be guilty of some crime completely removed from the alleged traffic violation. Not many people will refuse to "volunteer" when they feel they are at the (hopefully) good graces of the stone-faced cop who just pulled them over.
Arpaio says he’ll shovel all these fingerprints into a database to determine if there are any discrepancies in identification. He says fingerprints that come up clean will be purged from the database. So only the guilty have anything to worry about. Just trust him. Right.
We don’t always agree with the American Civil Liberties Union, but the Arizona chapter’s Eleanor Eisenberg was right when she told the Tribune’s Kim Smith, "Even if it’s not deliberate, there’s definitely a coercive element when you’re stopped by a uniformed officer who has the power to throw you into jail, who has the authority to arrest you. . . How much are we going to willingly give up in terms of our privacy, our civil liberties, and as a Supreme Court justice said in plain language, our right to be left alone?"
Arpaio, quite in character, launched this program without even consulting County Attorney Andrew Thomas, who also is targeting identity thieves but knows something about the Constitution. He told the Tribune he will meet with Arpaio about the program.
Meanwhile, Valley attorney Mike Black told Smith the program "could potentially be a very expensive experiment, depending on the circumstances of the stop." Juries still hand out hefty awards when people’s civil rights are violated. And this misguided program has big dollar signs — and those will be tax dollars — plastered all over it that lawyers already are noticing.
Arpaio should halt this program immediately. Then he and other Valley law enforcement officials should map an aggressive strategy to nail identity thieves that doesn’t involve shredding the Constitution.