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29 Jun 2016

Fingerprint scanners get thumbs down | The Advertiser

By Daniel Wills | State Political Editor

AMID serious privacy fears crossbench state MPs have locked in behind a plan to make police ask for traditional ID cards before they resort to the use of new hi-tech fingerprint scanners.

The Greens and independent MPs John Darley and Kelly Vincent have joined the Liberals and given majority support to the restrictions in the Upper House. It comes despite State Government warnings that their plan would render the new technology almost entirely useless.

The Government has trialled the devices and plans to buy 150 at a total cost of $3.4 million. It wants police to be able to stop people and compel them to have their prints scanned if they think that person has committed a crime, is about to do so, or can help in an investigation. The scanners are linked to the National Automated Fingerprint Identification System, and can return criminal records within a minute of a suspect touching the electronic keypad.

Liberal MP Andrew McLachlan said it appeared police were seeking powers to “invade our privacy at will” under laws that “potentially signals the Orwellian future that awaits us”. The Upper House vote has produced a deadlock between the two houses of State Parliament, and means police will not be able to use the machines until a compromise or backdown is secured.

Police Minister Peter Malinauskas said it was ironic that the Greens and Liberals were uniting against the Government, and said their changes would slow down vital investigations. “It would defeat a key purpose of the Bill to enable our police officers to quickly identify people in the field in circumstances that are often challenging and hazardous,” Mr Malinauskas said. “This technology is useful. The trial has demonstrated how effective a tool these devices can be for police in capturing people and indeed preventing crime, going into the future.”

Greens MP Mark Parnell said he feared misuse of new technology could give authorities power over individual freedoms similar to those depicted in George Orwell’s famous novel 1984. “We want to make sure that body of work remains a work of fiction. We do not want it to become a documentary,” he said. And Mr McLachlan rejected suggestions police would be unable to use the machines — saying they would still be permitted to do so after having tried and failed with traditional techniques — adding administrative needs of police didn’t outweigh citizens’ rights.

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