South Australian Attorney General John Rau is introducing new legislation that could potentially give police the power to enforce mandatory on-the-spot fingerprint scans. Under new legislation set to be released for consultation, any individual who does not comply with a police request for an on-the-spot fingerprint scan could face three months in prison or a fine of up to $1,250.
Rau said the fingerprint scans will not be random and a set of strict criteria will need to be met before police officers are allowed to conduct any scan on an individual.
In order to conduct a fingerprint scan, police will need “reasonable cause’’ to suspect the person has committed, is committing or is about to commit an offence or may be able to help in the investigation of an offence.
Senior police are in favor of the expansion of fingerprint scans, which has already led to many arrests for outstanding warrants during a trial.
Meanwhile, the Law Society has expressed concerns regarding public privacy.
“[We have] strong concerns about the idea of compelling someone to submit to a fingerprint scan on the spot,” said Law Society president Rocky Perotta. “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.”
However, Rau said that the expansion is entirely necessary as existing laws only give police “limited powers and currently only use the fingerprint scanners once they have arrested a person.’’
Police are rolling out 150 mobile fingerprint scanners from NEC Australia across the state following a successful trial last year that resulted in several arrests.
The fingerprint scanners have significantly reduced the amount of time it takes for officers to verify a suspect’s identity.
The portable device works when suspects place their finger or thumb on the sensor pad, and if a match is found, it will display a photograph of the person, a list of current or previous offences, and any outstanding warrants.
In the field trial, police were able to make arrests instantly, demonstrating 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,” said Rau.