Report: Alabama Starts Scanning Prison Visitor Fingerprints

Alabama's new policy to scan prison visitor fingerprints to verify identification has drawn the ire of the ACLU.

by / September 6, 2012

The Alabama Department of Corrections now requires all prison visitors to have their fingerprint scanned before entering, making Alabama the first state to enact such a requirement, according to USA Today. The requirement, which was instated in August, is facing opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) National Prison Project (NPP).

Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett attributed the new rule to an updated computer system. "Our IT department came up with the idea of scanning fingerprints as part of the upgrade," Corbett said, reported USA Today. "We still require visitors to have a government-issued photo ID, and that requirement will remain in place. But there are times when someone else resembles the photo on an ID. Scanning the fingerprint of visitors verifies they are who they say they are."

Visitor fingerprints will not be stored in a database, but only used to verify identity at the door, Corbett said. Regardless, David Fathi, director of the ACLU NPP, called the rule “extreme.”

"Alabama prison officials can't say with a straight face that it is a security issue," Fathi said. "Not when the remaining 49 state prison systems do not require the scanning of visitors' fingerprints. It is an unnecessary barrier to visiting inmates. If showing a driver's license is all that is required to get on an airplane that will fly you near the White House, it should be enough to get you inside a prison to visit someone.”

While Alabama may be the only state to require visitors to scan fingerprints, biometric scanning is becoming a more common technology in federal and state facilities. An FBI-led program to create a tattoo and scar database could soon be used to identify gang members or wanted criminals.