March 18, 2015
ANYONE who refuses a police request for an on-the-spot fingerprint scan will face up to three months’ prison or a fine of up to $1250 under a move to expand their use.
Attorney-General John Rau is pushing ahead with an election promise to give police the new powers, but their use will not be random and strict criteria must be met before any scan is conducted.
Senior police have welcomed the expansion of their use, which has already resulted in several arrests for outstanding warrants during a trial, while the Law Society has expressed concerns over privacy.
Mr Rau said that under existing laws, police have limited powers and currently only use the fingerprint scanners once they have arrested a person.’’
Under new legislation set to be released for consultation, before a person can be scanned police have to have “reasonable cause’’ to suspect that person has committed, is committing or is about to commit an offence or may be able to assist in the investigation of an offence.
Police are rolling out 150 portable fingerprint scanners across the state after a trial conducted last year resulted in several people being arrested after being scanned. Their use is saving officers considerable time in verifying the identity of those suspected of wrongdoing and evading police over outstanding warrants.
When tested, a person places their finger or thumb on a sensor pad on the palm-sized device.
If a hit is returned the scanner will display a photograph of the person, a list of current or prior offences and any outstanding warrants.
Mr Rau said in the field trial police were able to make arrests instantly.
“This demonstrated that legislative reform is necessary to enable police to use the scanners in wider circumstances, where a person does not have to give consent and police can scan for prints without the need to arrest,” he said.
Law Society president Rocky Perotta said he had “strong concerns about the idea of compelling someone to submit to a fingerprint scan on the spot”.
“Being forced to have a fingerprint scan 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,’’ he said.