Legal Technology

Are you a smoker? A drug user? Your fingerprints may tell all

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Several law enforcement agencies are testing a new technology that collects the residue from fingerprints to learn whether the person is male or female and whether he or she has handled drugs, tobacco or explosives.

The so-called Fingerprint Molecular Identification process was developed by a company called the ArroGen Group, Popular Mechanics reports. The process would allow police to test a child’s fingerprints to learn whether his parent could be running a meth lab, to determine whether a job applicant uses drugs, or to screen airline passengers to learn whether they have handled explosives.

The test uses a powder with sub-micron particles that adheres to fingerprints, which are obtained with lift tape. In the lab, the samples are put into a mass spectrometer that detects molecular profiles in the fingerprint residue. The new powder produces images with better clarity.

Because the test isn’t invasive, it doesn’t require a suspect to consent to its use, just as suspects don’t have to consent to a DNA test on a discarded cigarette. Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union, told Popular Mechanics the ACLU has concerns about the new test.

“We’re always concerned if companies or government agencies are trying to look into how you’re living your life when they don’t have a need or right to know,” Stanley said.

Hat tip to the Marshall Project.

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