Savannah Morning News, [GA]
Web posted Tuesday, September 28, 1999
[You'll have to do a search on "fingerprints" to locate article.]
Wanted: drivers to protest about fingerprinting
State Representative hopes to persuade people to sue over drivers'
By James Salzer Morris News Service
ATLANTA -- State Rep. Mitchell Kaye figures if you can't beat 'em in
the General Assembly, sue 'em.
He has been fighting for three years against a state provision mandating
that Georgia's five million drivers submit their fingerprints when they
get or renew their licenses.
Kaye, who believes the fingerprinting is an invasion of privacy, got the
signatures of a majority of House members for his bill repealing the law
last session. The Senate also has supported the idea in the past.
However, facing opposition from the head of the State Patrol, efforts
like Kaye's have consistently stalled in House committees.
So now the Marietta Republican is running ads in newspapers trying to
find plaintiffs to possibly sue the state. He hopes to win in court, if
necessary, what he couldn't in the state House.
"This is a last resort," said Kaye, who has twice before successfully
battled the state in court. "We want to line up our ducks. But we'd
prefer the governor do something."
The political climate has changed since Kaye began fighting the 1996
law, along with other fingerprinting opponents in the General Assembly
and a laundry list of critics ranging from the National Rifle Association
and Christian Coalition to the ACLU.
Gov. Zell Miller, whose administration backed the measure, has been
replaced by Roy Barnes.
While Barnes served in the General Assembly, he supported legislation
repealing the requirement.
"There's no need for a government -- just because you drive -- to go and
put your fingerprint in a database somewhere to be used for who knows what,"
Barnes said in 1996.
Barnes spokesman Joselyn Butler said the governor has asked Department
of Public Safety Commissioner Robert Hightower to review the law and make
a recommendation about its future.
Earlier this year, Hightower replaced the most vocal backer of the
provision, Georgia State Patrol Commander Sid Miles.
A spokeswoman for Hightower couldn't answer any questions Monday about
the new commander's position on the fingerprint law.
>From the beginning, critics have seen the provision as a step toward a
national ID system.
"It's Big Brother, and it treats law-abiding citizens like common
criminals," Kaye said. "It's un-American."
However, a 1997 Georgia State University poll suggested most supported
the idea, and Miles argued it helped keep people from getting fraudulent
licenses using somebody else's name.
Time is of the essence for Kaye.
The legislator, who has been a political gnat in House Speaker Tom Murphy's
face for years, was part of two successful state lawsuits earlier this
decade: one to eliminate taxes on the sale of things like cars between
individuals and the other to outlaw certain electronic communications.
Though he's not a lawyer, Kaye has been able to put together legal teams
to try the cases.
However, a majority of Georgians on the road today have renewed their
drivers' licenses since the law was instituted, so they have already
"agreed" to provide their fingerprints. For his lawsuit, Kaye would
like to find Georgians who haven't been fingerprinted yet.
An advertisement he placed in the Marietta Daily Journal this weekend
stated, "Government intrusion/invasion of privacy. Do you like being
treated like a common criminal? Individuals wanted who have not yet
renewed their license to be possible plaintiff in lawsuit."
The lawmaker said he's gotten several responses, but he holds out the
hope that Barnes and Hightower will act before a lawsuit is filed.
State government reporter James Salzer can be reached at (404) 589-8424.