Fingerprint concerns raised in Jamaica

Concerns are being raised in the
legal fraternity about the police being allowed to preserve the thousands of
fingerprints they reportedly obtained from detainees during the recent state of
emergency.

This provision was inserted into
the new Emergency Powers Regulations, which were gazetted on 22 June, shortly
after the state of emergency was extended for 30 days and expanded to St
Catherine.

Under Section 31, Subsection (4) of
the 22 June regulations: “Any person detained under paragraph (1) shall be
deemed to be in lawful custody and may be detained in any prison or in any
lock-up or in any other place authorised generally or specifically by the minister;
and an authorised person may, during such detention, take photographs,
description measurement and fingerprints of any person so detained and any
information so obtained may, after the release of such person, be preserved.”

This clause, which was not in the
first set of regulations gazetted on 26 May, is in stark contrast to what the
law requires when there is no state of emergency.

Under the Fingerprint Act, only a
judge can order that an accused person provide the police with fingerprints. In
addition, the police are required to destroy the fingerprints within three
months after the accused is acquitted of an offence.

Attorney Bert Samuels claimed that
the “troubling” new provision was “sneaked” into the second set of emergency
regulations and warned that these fingerprints were “dangerous in the possession
of the police”.

Pointing out that fingerprints,
like DNA, are powerful evidence, Mr. Samuels questioned the need for the
clause.

“What interest does the State have
in the fingerprints of a person who has not been found guilty of any offence
and who has not been charged for any offence? 
“We have had the experience where a police officer admitted to fabricating
a witness to secure a conviction against a citizen,” he said in reference to
convicted former Detective Constable Carey Lyn-Sue.

In 2008, Mr. Lyn-Sue confessed,
under oath, that he had fabricated a statement in a case against Jason James.
Mr. Samuels added: “Therefore, it is not far-fetched that the State, being in
possession of my fingerprints, could transfer them and impose them on a crime
scene and then make a case against me.”

However, several persons
interviewed by The Gleaner reported that they were fingerprinted and
photographed while they were in detention.

In addition, the Independent
Jamaica Council for Human Rights said it had information that large groups of
young men from several inner-city communities are being detained, fingerprinted
and photographed.

The head of the human rights
council, Arlene Harrison-Henry, said her understanding was that this was being
done to create a national database of names and fingerprints.

“It seems highly irregular to have
these people’s fingerprints on a database without them having committed a
crime, being reasonably suspected of committing a crime, about to commit a
crime, or in any way wanted by the police,” Harrison-Henry said.

“It is troubling. It is disturbing
that we want to build a profile of persons who come from certain communities,”
she added.

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