HOUSTON – The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) has set out to take the fingerprints of every Texan old enough to drive over the next 12 years.
All of these fingerprints are to be added to a statewide criminal history database.
Controversially, the department made the decision on its own, and did so without clear legal authority.
Consumer affairs columnist Dave Lieber of the Dallas Morning News broke the news last month that DPS had started collecting full sets of fingerprints from everyone who went in to renew their license.
Lieber quotes an email from DPS spokesman Tom Vinger, who quotes a section from Transportation Code Sec. 521.059 that details that “the department shall establish an image verification system based on the following identifiers collected by the department: …an applicant’s thumbprints or fingerprints.”
The sections of the Texas Transportation code immediately surrounding that quote do not add much clarity to the rationale behind collecting fingerprints.
Instead, the explanation can be found in the original bill that was signed into law, which states that an application for a driver’s license “must include: 1. the thumbprints of the applicant or, if thumbprints cannot be taken, the index fingerprints of the applicant.”
Thus, while the law does mention that index fingerprints – not a full set of 10 fingerprints – can be used by law enforcement agencies investigating a crime, it does not mention anything about making these prints available in a criminal database.
Lieber has offered that the solution is for Legislature to pass a clear law on the matter.