Local News

As mobile fingerprinting expands in NC, does it invade rights?

Posted December 19, 2017 6:53 p.m. EST

— North Carolina is stepping up mobile fingerprinting technology for state and local law enforcement, but some people are worried that the change could invade personal rights.

Instead of asking people to submit to fingerprinting at a police station, law enforcement officers can confirm their identities on the spot with a technology called Rapid ID. A person places their finger on a small, cellphone-looking device which then searches state and federal databases for a match.

"The technology is evolving. It's exploding," said SBI Special Agent in Charge Wyatt Pettengill. "We also view this mostly as a public officer protection technology."

The device can confirm or exclude a suspect in less than a minute.

Mike Meno with the American Civil Liberties Union argues while the technology helps solve crimes, it is important the public understand their rights.

"It's important that the public knows that you can refuse to be fingerprinted. You need to give consent unless you're arrested," he said.

But Pettengill says if someone declines to provide identification, they could be arrested.

"They do have the right to privacy. They do have the right to refuse that, but there are certainly consequences to that decision," he said.

As law enforcement's use of mobile fingerprinting expands, so does the challenge to preserve rights.

"It's important for people to know their rights. It's important that this process be transparent," Meno said.

The Rapid ID system can also be used to identify dead people or confirm inmate identification before they're released.

"It's just another tool for the officer to use in trying to address what could be a dangerous situation," Pettengill said.

Officials say once your fingerprint is checked in the field, it is not saved, unless you're arrested.