Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Phoenix launched an attack against identity theft yesterday when his deputies began asking motorists to submit thumbprints voluntarily when pulled over for routine traffic stops, reports the Arizona Republic. The goal is to catch people who take the wheel with stolen or falsified driver’s licenses, Arpaio said. Although Arizona has the highest proportion of identity-theft victims in the nation, critics described the move as ill-advised, if not illegal. By Thursday afternoon, deputies using inkless pads, had issued 20 tickets and collected 20 thumbprints, the sheriff said. The thumbprints will be randomly checked against a database to determine whether a false identity was being used.
However, a similar program launched Dec. 30 in Green Bay, Wis., so outraged the public that it was dropped after only two weeks. “The news media blew it out of proportion,” Police Chief Craig Van Schyndle told a newspaper there. At Arizona State University, former deputy U.S. Solicitor General Paul Bender said the Phoenix program “seems to me to be a little far-out. The rationale strikes me as pretty strained.” Bender questions whether Arpaio has the legal authority for the program. Eleanor Eisenberg of the Arizona Civil Liberties Union called it “bad policy” if not unconstitutional. “At the least, it’s silly, counterproductive, an invasion of privacy and a monumental waste of time,” she said.