The Nation's Pulse

How Creepy Can It Get?

We used to fingerprint felons -- now, we're "inking" traffic scofflaws.

By 5.23.06

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We used to fingerprint felons -- now, we're "inking" traffic scofflaws.

Run a couple of mph over the speed limit in the state of Kansas (or even fail to "buckle up for safety") and you'll be duly entered into the Kansas Bureau of Investigation's electronic fingerprint database -- a privilege once reserved for actual criminals, not ordinary citizens who commit minor violations of the motor vehicle code. KBI, authorized by the state government, will be "testing out" 60 automated fingerprint readers throughout the state beginning this month -- all of it funded by a $3.6 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security.

Who knew Kansas drivers were such an ominous lot?

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated aberrance. California began fingerprinting driver's license applicants as long ago as 1977 (when it was optional; it's now mandatory) and other states (Georgia, Colorado, Hawaii, Texas) routinely fingerprint motorists as well -- with digitized/electronic systems coming on line. Most of this is done at license issue time, however.

Kansas is the first state to run fingerprints during traffic stops.

Recently passed federal legislation will soon require all states to catalogue motorists' whorls and swirls (and other so-called "biometric tags," including eye scans) within the next couple of years.

Virginia and a few other states are looking at incorporating microscopic "radio frequency" ID transmitters into driver's licenses that would make it possible for anyone with the right scanner to download all your pertinent (and even not-so-pertinent) information -- without your even being aware of it. These RFID transmitters work sort of like those EZ-pass thingies some of us already have on our cars to help us breeze through tolls. Only in this case, it would be a matter of making it easier for government to breeze through our personal data.

Fingerprint scanners are also in use on school buses and in cafeteria lunchrooms -- apparently to make sure no child gets more than his allotted serving of tater tots. (And perhaps to acclimate the next generation to this sort of routine monitoring.)

Add to the mix face recognition software tied increasingly everywhere into video surveillance equipment and our minders in government will be able to observe and keep track of us as efficiently as a biologist observing a paramecium under his microscope.

It's not "your papers, please!" (say it with a thick German accent). It's worse. Because what's at issue is not merely your identity -- but everything linked to your identity, including your purchases (tied into your credit cards and bank records), medical history, even (potentially) your political and social affiliations insofar as they can be recorded via computer data. The sum total of your existence; a summary of your life to date. Information of this sort is constantly being collected and stored in various computer databases, both privately and government-run -- all of it keyed into your identity.

And your fingerprint.

Sullen DMV personnel and low-grade Nixonian bureaucrats will shortly have total access to our vital personal information at their whim, anytime -- without any meaningful legal/judicial protections against such random searches. Then there are the hackers and identity thieves who will inevitably gain access to our info.

Our Brave New World is here!

Of course, this go 'round it's supposed to be different. And OK. Our leaders are noble and trustworthy -- beyond corruption, perhaps even beyond good and evil. The awesome power they're accumulating will never be abused -- even by future "leaders" who may not be so all-wise or all-benevolent.

They are merely trying to protect us from "terror." Etc.

And so we must accept without question or complaint ever broader, ever more intrusive government -- up to and including being catalogued and monitored like paroled felons. Even if all we've done is run a red light or failed to wear our seat belt.

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About the Author

Eric Peters is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities: The Cars You Love to Hate (Motor Books International) and a new book, Road Hogs.