Let’s Fingerprint Everybody….Whenever They Move!


Oh, no! It turns out that when the federal and state governments ordered everybody to leave New Orleans, “everybody” included “registered sex offenders”! Who knew? And now those registered sex offenders are scattered to the winds!

Thank God some states insisted on forcing evacuees to give them their fingerprints! According to CNN,

In West Virginia, officials said the State Police fingerprinted evacuees when they arrived. They found three people who were ordered to put their names on the state’s sex offender registry.

“That was the situation we were mindful of from the very beginning,” said Lara Ramburg, spokesman for Gov. Joe Manchin. “That’s one of the reasons we kept track of people entering West Virginia.”

Massachusetts conducted criminal background checks and found one man wanted on an outstanding arrest warrant for rape. Two other men would have been required to register but opted to leave the state instead.

I’ll bet the authorities could catch even more registered sex offenders — not to mention muggers, bad-check writers, and “tax cheats” — if they were to require fingerprints and background checks every time people move from state to state. What are they waiting for? Why aren’t they protecting us?

15 Responses to “Let’s Fingerprint Everybody….Whenever They Move!”

  1. Oh, I figure that they’re waiting for the authorization to get the DNA of everyone. After all, felons, members of the military and everyone who has had a paternity test done has a “confidential” record. It’s only a matter of time (if it isn’t in the “Patriot Act”) before all of these records are required to be available to the federal authorities.

    It’s just a matter of time before some “emergency” hits (or HillaryCare health progrom) and everybody is required to have DNA records opened and available on demand.

    Who needs fingerprints when you’ve got DNA?

    Just a thought.
    Just Ken

  2. Anonymous

    Tom: Recently you wrote about the new feeling of freedom people in Kurdistan felt, thanks to the decrease in bombing as a result of, among other things, all the police checkpoints set up. I suggested being safer is not the same as being more free. Now you seem concerned, not thankful, that America is trying to make people feel better about letting their children walk more safely in the community by tracking known sex offenders. Aren’t Americans entitled to the same efforts at increasing safety, and thereby freedom, as those in Kurdistan?

    My point, of course, is not to defend the “fingerprint everyone” mentality of state officials, nor even to suggest our country’s sexual predator laws are reasonable or truly effective in protecting children (no more, I suspect, than Iraqi efforts to stop bombers). It is merely to point out that, at first glance, you treat American freedoms as more important than Iraqi freedoms. Are individual freedoms trumps, a limit on what the state may lawfully do, or merely one factor in a calculus, to be weighed against safety, concern for children, etc.? As you recognize, this is a perennial debate.

  3. Tom G. Palmer

    Ross, you seem to underappreciate the fear that people have of being torn to bits by car bombs that go off almost daily in Baghdad. Having a “registered sex offender” (almost always treated as predatory pedophiles, but in fact including plenty of other people) in your neighborhood should not create the same fear of imminent death that the car bombers create. In Baghdad parents are afraid to let their children out at night because of quite rational fears that they won’t come home. The risks presented by the two factors (car bombers freely driving everywhere, on the one hand, and sex offenders not being registered, on the other) can be compared; one is very real and significant and the other is mainly imaginary and and insignificantly tiny. In the former case, having checkpoints to check whether cars entering cities are full of bombs makes it possible for people to walk freely down the street; in the latter case, fingerprinting people who go from state to state generates such an infinitesimally small benefit (three “registered sex offenders” were identified and induced to register with the local authorities) that it’s barely a benefit at all and not a diminution of the threat of coercion and violence that could create any increase in the freedom from coercion or the fear thereof on the part of the rest of the population.

    Do you really think that the two are equivalent? That seems to me like considering indistinguishable a police check of the license plates of passing cars to find a mass murderer, on the one hand, and a police cordon and sweep through a neighborhood to find a kid who hit a baseball through a window, on the other. Which is more important: not having dozens of people killed by car bombs every day or not having the occasional window broken by boys hitting errant baseballs? Which would justify checkpoints? Which, if successful in catching and deterring A) car bombers, or B) baseball-playing boys, would generate the freedom to walk down the street, meet friends, go to work, engage in commerce, run businesses, go to school, walk in the park, and meet friends for lunch in a restaurant?

    (P.S. If we should be so afraid of certain registered sex offenders, perhaps those persons should still be in jail, not on the street. The registration requirements, which cast a rather wide net, seem mainly symbolic in character; they make us feel better for supporting them, but don’t in fact make us safer. And when there’s a tiny increase in safety from the registration of three offenders in West Virginia, it’s touted as a wonderful success, with no comparison of the costs involved, including the cost of fingerprinting and treating as criminals thousands of innocent non-offenders.)

  4. Anonymous

    Tom: Of course I agree with your characterization of sexual predator laws in the US, as might have been deduced from my statement: “My point, of course, is not…to suggest our country’s sexual predator laws are reasonable…” Having said this, I’m sure you could find plenty of parents in our country who are desperately scared of child abduction and pedophile violence. They seem to welcome these intrusions into freedom for the sake of increased safety. You are confident your position on bombs going off is a more rational tradeoff of liberty for safety, and for argument’s sake I agree. But it then seems, getting to the point of my comment, found in the final sentence, that you view rights not as a trump, not as a Nozickean side-constraint, but merely as one factor among many, to be weighted and balanced by those in charge. If that’s the case, it’s not terribly surprising that occasionally those in charge will reach a decision with which you disagree. I find that a less than compelling argument in a democracy.

  5. Adam Allouba

    Charles: I think that reductio ad absurdum arguments don’t pack much of a punch on crime issues because most people really do seem to believe that only the guilty have anything to hide. A friend of mine honestly believes that the police should have unlimited power to do anything to anyone, and if they hurt an innocent person then he gets “compensated.” Needless to say, he doesn’t know much about law, politics, or history.

    – Adam

  6. The exchange between Dr. Palmer and Ross Levatter, continued from a previous thread (http://www.pjdoland.com/cgi-bin/mt/mt-comments.cgi?entry_id=27234), is interesting.

    The distinction between Lockean and Hobbesian rights is not clear to me, but it seems the central contention is one between consequentialism and deontology.

    Deontology has been described with the following scenario:

    Imagine an affluent neighbourhood that is victim to substantial thefts. Further suppose that coercively taxing the residents to maintain a security force would reduce the thievery by more than the cost of the force.

    A consequentialist would favor such a move, because it reduces the overall rights violations. A deontologist would be opposed, because it institutionalizes the violations.

    My question to Ross is, would you be opposed to forcibly fund the security force in this situation?

    Please don’t take my question the wrong way: I’m not that familiar with deontology and may not have presented it fairly, but I _am_ genuinely curious.

  7. Tom G. Palmer

    On January 3 I was sent an odd note with the title “private — the supposedly insignificant threat of sex offenders.” It was from a Mr. Gil Guillory. Anyway, I got an email today that he had posted a blog entry on Lewrockwell.com that was….the same allegedly “private” comment, minus the line that started his insulting note to me: “I don’t want to start a whole online war about this, so I won’t blog it.”

    Here is his “private” non-blogged comment, which he then posted online:

  8. Yah, that’s his style. He tried, however, to cover his patootie by saying “Palmer implicitly claims”, i.e., that he didn’t write that, but I think it ought to mean that. Those fringe-type Rockwell guys are as intellectually respectable as a convention of the Village Idiots’ Association. But I am interested in Henri Hein’s question. What of it? Ross? Tom?

  9. Tom G. Palmer

    Some interesting questions above. In response to Ross, I’d say that comparisons of risk are not themselves matters of fundamental principle, but claims that require some empirical evidence. The risk of being blown up by a suicide bomber in Baghdad is quite high. Having checkpoints to look under cars for bombs is a reasonable response; in Iraqi Kurdistan it has greatly decreased the risk of terrorist attack and created a much greater sphere of freedom, as a result. Frisking everyone after 9/11 to find nail clippers or knitting needles is not a reasonable response; it doesn’t work, but merely subjects people to hassle, indignity, and delay for no increase in security. Fingerprinting everyone who crosses state borders, as Mr. Guillory suggests, in order to identify a tiny number of released criminals so that they will have to register on an internet site, is not reasonable. It greatly restricts freedom for almost no benefit at all.

    Henri asks a question of Ross, and I won’t presume to answer for him. Nozick does discuss the issue, but doesn’t resolve it all that neatly. He calls the case that Henri describes a “utilitarianism of rights.” It’s not utilitarianism per se; it’s a form of consequentialism that posits that what should be maximized is rights respect (or that rights violations should be minimized) and would sanction the violation of the rights of ten people, say, to secure the same rights (or avoid the violations of the same rights) of 100 people. Or, more plausibly, that all of us might suffer a small limitation of rights (Locke suggests that we delegate powers to government and therefore can no longer legitimately exercise them) in order to secure all the rest. Hayek articulates a position rather close to that in his theory of the use of coercion in order to minimize the aggregate amount of coercion in society. (Hobbes, in contrast, has one give up all of one’s rights to the sovereign, who remains in a “state of nature” with respect to all the rest of the population, in order to save us from the violence of all being in such a “state of nature.” The sovereign, remaining in the “state of nature,” has no restraints on his or their power, whatsoever.)

    The issue is made more complex, however, when we factor in the facts of limited information and uncertainty. Since one can’t generally know the various payoffs in particular instances, and since there is a cost to the breaching of a rule (it’s made more likely in future), such an approach would lead one to compare rules, based on their outcomes, rather than outcomes directly. Hence, one could have a “rule utilitarianism of rights,” which would be more principles-oriented than a mere “utilitarianism of rights.”

    But it’s hard to imagine a “deontologist” with so strong a commitment to a duty that he would never make exceptions to general rules or violate a right in a minor way (say, stealing a penny or shoving someone out of the way) in order to avoid a terrible violation of rights. There’s another point that one could raise in response to Henri: if one could provide security in a neighborhood through voluntary means (through, for example, privately provided locks and security patrols provided through voluntary and explicit agreement to pay fees, as in the cases of condos and neighborhood associations), wouldn’t that be better than the provision of such security through coercion of the unwilling?

  10. Jeff compares Gil – implicitly, it is true – to a village idiot. That may be a bit harsh. Perhaps a village illiterate, or at least someone who doesn’t bother to read with care. One might have at least expected that before embarrassing himself, Gil would have read the posts in question and caught his erroneous inference. (Or did he know that it was erroneous and try to ‘cover his patootie,’ as Jeff suggsts, by inserting the weasel phrase “Palmer implicitly claims”?) In addition, his reading of Eugene’s post was shallow and assumed, without even a gesture at some argument or support, that punishment is never a “proper concern.” That is, as I understand it, rather an unsettled question among libertarians, but not, I gather, among some who favor mandatory (and stunningly coercive and authoritarian) fingerprinting of people traveling from state to state in their own country.

  11. Just cruised over from the lewrockwell link. (Would’ve gotten to this anyway, since I check your blog, too.) I’ve been trying to make sense of Guillory’s claim. I can’t. At the suggestion of another commentator, you were comparing checkpoints in IRAQ, which is rational for Iraqis, who have suicide bombers to contend against, with fingerprinting Americans who travel within the country, which sounds draconian and irrational. Guillory thinks you were arguing in favor of checkpoints in AMERICA and against fingerprinting travelers. I’ll bet you’re against both, like any respectable libertarian would be.

    I don’t know what’s lamer–being in favor of compulsory fingerprints every time people cross state lines, or being so ;lazy or incompetent that you’d write what Guillory wrote.