It is in times of national emergencies that measures infringing on privacy and civil liberties are advocated -- and sometimes rushed through without even being discussed -- even if they turn out to do little to solve the problem at hand. Then, when the emergency is over, the liberty-stealing measures remain.
The current crisis at Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and banks is being characterized as a national emergency, and not surprisingly, political leaders are demanding that war-like financial measures be enacted. But we can't let the rationale of a financial crisis bring on unwarranted intrusion on our liberties any more than we can let the justification of national security do so.
Last Friday, despite the best efforts a bipartisan coalition including the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Conservative Union, the Senate passed legislation that included the mandatory fingerprint registry we had spoken out in opposition to. The House is now writing new legislation to match portions of the Senate's for a bill to send to the president.
But there is no reason why the House must include the Senate's fingerprint mandate in its bill. Even in a crisis, the burden should not be on privacy advocates defending the liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights to explain why a privacy-invading measure shouldn't be enacted. Rather, proponents of the measure should bear the burden of explaining why the current crisis justifies something that infringes on their liberties.
Show us the evidence that fingerprinting would have lessened the damage at Fannie, Freddie, and now-insolvent banks! The proponents can't and they won't, because there probably is none.
As I have said before in the Wall Street Journal and other places, this measure would probably not subject to fingerprinting the Angelo Mozilos who designed these loans. Rather, it would affect hundreds of thousands of ordinary employees in the mortgage and real estate industry, including many part-time and clerical workers. The law defines as anyone who "takes a residential loan application; and offers or negotiates terms of a residential mortgage loan for compensation or gain." Real estate agents are also covered if they receive any type of compensation from "originators."
In other words, people who are our friends and neighbors who did nothing fraudulent or irresponsible would have to submit their fingerprint for tracking to a giant federal database.
Some good news is that in addition to bipartisan coaliton that has risen up against the fingerprint mandate, there has been some excellent news coverage of the mandate and the coalition against it. Check out these articles from Washington Post syndicated columnist Ken Harney, the Tampa Tribune, CNET, CNSNews, and WorldNetDaily.