Warrantless Fingerprinting

Imagine a world in which the police needed a warrant to dust for latent fingerprints. That is, after a crime is discovered or reported, the police have to go to a judge and demonstrate probable cause that person X is involved. If the judge agrees, a fingerprint warrant is issued. Only then can the police dust the crime scene for fingerprints, and the only information they’re allowed to use is whether X’s fingerprints are present.

It would be a world much like this one, except criminals would be caught less often.

Now imagine living in that world and trying to convince others that the country would be better-off if police didn’t need a warrant to dust for fingerprints. Yes, you admit, there’s a chance that some innocent peoples’ privacy could be infringed, but more criminals would be brought to justice. And with more fingerprints, prosecutors wouldn’t have to rely on flimsier evidence such as eyewitness testimony. In addition to convicting more criminals, this could spare innocent people from prison. In short: we could reduce crime, save lives, and make justice more just.

Is there any doubt that despite your benevolent intentions, you would be branded a fascist? After all, you are a proponent of warrantless fingerprinting. Many of your friends and peers would think less of you for that. If you had any fame, you would likely be hounded by the ACLU and the EFF. Despite being sincere in your views and using straightforward reasoning, people would continually misrepresent you as an authoritarian who hates privacy.

Hopefully, this is starting to sound familiar.

Our current legal system is the product of many historical accidents. In some circumstances, it may give too much leeway to police and prosecutors. In others, it may give too little. Reasonable, intelligent people can come to different conclusions about this. Those in favor of warrantless X are not authoritarian or fascistic. Those against warrantless X are not paranoid anarchists. So please tone down the rhetoric and stop getting outraged.

When commenting, remember: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

Go dark.