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Department of Public Safety collecting fingerprints of Texans

 

The Department of Public Safety in Texas has been secretly gathering full sets of fingerprints from anyone applying for a new drivers’ license or a renewal, weeks in advance of when the new regulation was intended to go into effect, according to a report by Watchdog.org.

Last month, the DPS adopted a regulation for a new policy that would allow it to take fingerprints of all Texas residents applying for a new driver license or renewal — a practice it said is intended to cut down on identity theft, fraud and terrorism.

The amendment document states that the Texas Department of Public Safety “has put in place several application requirements meant to address issues of fraud and to protect the integrity of a driver license or identification card issued by the department.

Despite the rule not taking effect until July 6, the DPS began collecting and uploading the fingerprints to a criminal history database in the weeks approaching this date.

According to DPS lawyers, the department is not in the wrong, and instead, have been authorized to collect fingerprints based on an existing law. But as Watchdog.org points out, the aforementioned law was passed nearly 10 years ago and has never been perceived in this manner.

The Watchdog.org report cites remarks by criminal justice blogger Scott Henson who said that lawmakers had no such intention, and the rule was rejected by the House when it was put to a vote during the 78th Legislature.

“I remember when that law passed and thought we (privacy advocates) won,” said Henson, in an email referenced by Watchdog.org. “Can’t believe they’re pretending that was permission to do this. (Jon) Cassidy’s depiction of the original intent — thumbprint OR index finger — is definitely how I remember it ending.”

Henson said that the department is using an isolated reference to “fingerprints” in the legislation as evidence that they have the go-ahead collect entire sets of fingerprints. However, the legislation refers to fingerprints plural only because drivers’ license applications are required to include applicants’ thumbprints or their index fingerprints if thumbprints cannot be taken, said Henson.

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