New technologies that make it easier for police to identify suspects and charge them almost always present courts with constitutional concerns. One that is quickly making its way here is drug tests from fingerprints…
Whether it’s widespread use of license plate readers or the vast array of surveillance tools used by the National Security Agency, the technologies that law enforcement officials claim are indispensable to their work often undermine Americans’ privacy expectations and the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches.
We can expect to see court battles over the new fingerprinting technology that is already being used in the United Kingdom – and that developers are eager to market to US law enforcement agencies.
What Do Fingerprints Have to Do with Drugs?
The technology would allow police to determine what drugs you have used just from your fingerprints.
Using biometrics, these high-tech scanners analyze the sweat between the ridges of a fingerprint and can determine if a person has used pot, cocaine, heroin, or other drugs.
There are several versions of the fingerprint technology. Some use lasers, other use chemical processes.
One that could soon be marketed to US law enforcement agencies relies on a technology you are might be familiar with – paper spray mass spectrometry.
Never heard of it? If you’ve traveled by air in the past decade, you’ve probably seen it. Airport security personnel use it to look for evidence of bombs on passengers’ luggage and on their hands.
Portable Scanner Will Be Marketed to US Police
The United Kingdom company Intelligent Fingerprinting (IF) has developed the first portable drug detection system based on fingerprints. IF’s portable scanner is as simple to use as a home pregnancy test, and it can determine what drugs you have consumed in just 10 minutes.
For now, IF’s scanner is being used in drug treatment facilities to test patients and by a few British medical examiners to help determine cause of death.
But, the company’s chief executive says he expects that US law enforcement agencies, courts, and prisons will eventually be their biggest customers. He explicitly points out that the technology could be useful during roadside stops for DUI.
New Technology, Same Old Constitutional Problems
When this kind of technology comes along, law enforcement officials get really excited. After all, their job is to find lawbreakers, charge them, and get a conviction. A tool that can identify a drug user with just a trace of sweat would, in their eyes, make the job a lot easier.
But then, so would warrantless searches, aggressive interrogation techniques, telephone taps, and stop-and-frisk policies, all of which have been legally challenged and – at least in most cases – found to be unconstitutional.
If this new fingerprint technology is employed by police in the United States, you can bet there will be legal challenges. Ultimately, how they are used in police work will be determined by the courts, but there’s no telling how many Americans’ constitutional rights will be violated in the process.
What About Privacy Concerns?
What else could this chemical-detecting fingerprint technology learn about you, and what does that mean for Americans’ expectations of privacy?
For example, this technology could easily be modified to analyze the sweat on your fingerprints for evidence that you eat a lot of junk food. If insurance companies decided to use this, it could mean that someone who eats a lot of fast food would have to pay a higher insurance premium – or be denied insurance coverage outright.
Or, maybe a company doesn’t want to hire anyone whose fingerprints betray their pack-a-day cigarette habit.
Will law enforcement soon be using “fingerprint” technology to obtain DNA samples from suspects without probable cause or a warrant?
SC Criminal Defense Lawyer in Myrtle Beach, Conway and the Horry County Area
Attorney Daniel Selwa represents clients accused of crimes throughout the Myrtle Beach, Conway, Georgetown, and Horry County areas. If you have been charged with a crime, call Myrtle Beach criminal defense lawyer Daniel Selwa at (843) 492-5449 or fill out our online contact form to set up a free consultation.