Submitted by Darren Smith, Guest Blogger
“Five percent of our population lives in NYCHA housing, 20 percent of the crime is in NYCHA housing – numbers like that. And we’ve just got to find some way to keep bringing crime down there. And we have a whole group of police officers assigned to NYCHA housing,” Bloomberg said. “The people that live there, most of them, want more police protection. They want more people. If you have strangers walking in the halls of your apartment building, don’t you want somebody to stop and say, ‘Who are you, why are you here?’”
According to this proposal, keeping crime down would be successfully addressed by requiring all residents to submit to fingerprinting as a condition of residency. Supposedly, the fingerprint or other biometric data would be used for biometric access devices such as live fingerprint scanning devices mated with door locks. Yet, the centuries old method of using a key seems to work almost as well and so could perhaps an electronic RFID or magnetic stripe card device such as those used in many hotels. Is security the real goal or is it more nuanced?
Approximately 620,000 persons reside in NYC Housing Authority properties. One has to wonder about practicality in fingerprinting this many individuals, especially if a large portion of these residents are young children where fingerprinting is difficult. One could estimate if somehow this was manageable at even three minutes per set it would require. At 248 office days per year and an 8 hour workday it would take over 15 worker years to fingerprint the existing residents, assuming there was no turnover or births or additions or subtractions.
But what will be more startling to many would be the implication to civil liberties and perhaps the insult in the minds of a large percentage of the tenants this would foster. The proffered intent would be that by fingerprinting each of the tenants and merging that with the security system theoretically only those who have prints were on file would be allowed access into the building. But somehow Mayor Bloomberg believes having a fingerprint on file would allow someone in authority or a tenant to be able to see a person who does or does reside there and is walking down the halls, scan their fingerprints using their eyeballs, and then be able to verify that this person is a resident.
But if such a system is implemented, what is to be done with guests of tenants or for those wishing to contact the residents for any lawful purpose? And realistically how easy would it be to defeat this scheme? One nefarious resident simply opens the door and a phalanx of crooks marches in.
Practicalities aside, is it reasonable for those who through economic need reside in government housing blocks must submit to fingerprinting as is the case with those accused of crimes who are booked into jail while those who are of better means who rent or purchase their own residences not required?
But we should also ask, what the true purpose of this is, if there is one. Is it really to screen people or manage who enter the building? Fingerprinting the entire population of NYC is not going to reduce crime by any significant amount. It does have a purpose in identification only. Fingerprints only show who a person is and that they were present at a location to leave a latent print on an object. If one or both of these elements is absent a fingerprint is useless. Yet, the identification potential has the ability to detect who is actually applying to be a resident; that is if their fingerprints are on file. The problem comes in the use of this data.
Some states prohibit children under a certain age from being fingerprinted for a criminal arrest and / or conviction. Would this proposed rule by a means of bypassing this? Some security cleared employment applicants are required to submit a finger print card, such as those in positions of responsibility, investment managers, government agents and the likes. These cards are then compared with a national database to determine identification and if these prints are matched to those latent prints that were taken from crime scenes. Haphazard data entry by negligent employees can lead to incidences where one set of prints might be mismatched to another person, resulting years later possibly in the wrong person being implicated for a crime due a latent print matching the wrong person mistakenly entered into the database. The location for these print cards are also identified, so those who have submitted fingerprints (if these prints are to be merged into the federal databases) by reason of being public housing applicants when a comparison is made for them later in life it can show that the purpose of this person’s fingerprinting was that they had applied for public housing. Would this lead to a discriminatory treatment of the person, or at least an unfavorable view by some people who might hold a prejudice? And do people have a right to simple be not included in a government database when they have not committed any crime and elected not to apply for a security clearance?
But what kind of society requires it’s most financially vulnerable to submit to the same fingerprinting as those booked into jail as a condition to reside in public housing? And, what if the potential resident elects to refuse to submit to these procedures? Do the children of a single parent have to rely on the charity of others, or be homeless because a parent chooses, for whatever reason they have, to not be printed? Are we also to accept that economically disadvantaged people are criminals by nature and therefore are subjected to a different set of rules for different strata of citizens?
Source CBS New York