Brookline, MA - Some license applicants will be required to get fingerprinted before doing business in town if the Brookline police get their way.
A proposed bylaw would require several types of businesses, including taxi and ice cream truck drivers, hawker peddlers, door-to-door salesmen, and people seeking liquor licenses, to submit to a fingerprint scan as part of a national criminal records check. Secondhand dealers, and car dealers would also be subject to the bylaw.
“We have found out over the years that some of the people that apply for these occupations have a past,” said Police Chief Daniel O’Leary. “I’m not going to give somebody a license that has a criminal record and them put them out in the community.”
Currently, the department requires people applying for certain types of licenses to submit their names for a name-based records check. But officials said the check only reviews Massachusetts’ criminal records and also opens the department up to the possibility that somebody might lie about their name.
“This allows us to be more accurate, which is fairer to the person, and it will allow us to scan anywhere within the United States,” O’Leary said. “People can lie to us [now] and we don’t know about it.”
The occupations listed in the bylaw are all ones that the department currently licenses, will be licensing in the near future, or does criminals checks on for the Board of Selectmen, O’Leary said. And while he said the majority of those who apply for licenses don’t have issues, he added that they have denied people for lying about their names or criminal history in the past.
O’Leary said bylaws like the one his department is proposing are allowed under a revised Criminal Offender Record’s Information law, passed in by the Massachusetts Legislature in 2010. Officials said Boston has already created a similar bylaw, and other communities are considering passing their own.
Privacy advocates worry that the proposed bylaw could constitute an erosion of civil liberties.
“Boston did this a few months ago and we were against them doing it, and we’re not in favor of Brookline doing it either,” said Kade Crockford, the privacy right coordinator the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “The reasons that the chief lays out for wanting this to happen are sort of like ‘the sky is falling,’ worst possible scenarios, which is clearly not the place to create smart public policy from.”
One of Crockford’s specific concerns is whether the fingerprints will be retained, by whom, and for how long. Similar concerns were raised during conversations about video and information gained from surveillance cameras and proposed license plate-reading cameras in Brookline.
Crockford also worried that the intense checks could scare away people considering doing business in Brookline, even if they have no criminal history. For instance, people could have concerns that the information will end up in the hands of federal agencies.
“It seems to us that, especially in a recession, there’s no reason for Brookline to be setting up unnecessary employment barriers,” she said. “People who apply to have an ice cream truck in Brookline should not be afraid that their fingerprints are going to end up with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”