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ACLU Sues Over Fingerprinting of Outside Solicitors

October 09, 1986|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | Times Staff Writer

In its second legal action against the City of Glendale within a month, the ACLU is challenging a 41-year-old city ordinance requiring that solicitors for charities from outside the city be fingerprinted.

A suit filed last week in Los Angeles Superior Court charges that a city law requiring such fingerprinting violates state and federal constitutional rights of privacy, equal protection and freedom of speech.

American Civil Liberties Union attorneys who filed the suit said they were particularly angered that copies of those solicitors' fingerprints have been made easily available to the public.

The latest suit was filed on behalf of Greenpeace USA, a nationwide nonprofit environmental organization, and Glenn Smiley, a Glendale resident. Greenpeace had applied in August for a permit to canvass Glendale neighborhoods but refused to comply with regulations requiring that solicitors be fingerprinted.

In an earlier suit filed in September, the ACLU also charges that the city's newly implemented drug-testing policy violates job applicants' rights to privacy and "personal dignity." Both suits seek injunctions, one to block fingerprinting and the other to halt drug testing.

Paul Hoffman, an ACLU attorney, said the dual filings are "pure happenstance." He said the drug-testing suit "is completely irrelevant" to the fingerprinting challenge.

Hoffman said Glendale was targeted in the drug-testing suit because the city's program is believed to be one of the most comprehensive in the nation and is being used as a model by Los Angeles County and other governmental agencies considering implementing similar policies.

He said the fingerprinting suit was filed because it was the first time that Greenpeace had been asked to comply with such a request in Southern California. Hoffman said he knows of no other city in the area that requires solicitors to submit to fingerprinting.

Should Have Been Confidential

City Clerk Merle Hagemeyer said documents containing information on solicitors, including their fingerprints, have traditionally been kept as public records, readily available to anyone.

However, City Atty. Frank Manzano said that, under the city's policy, the fingerprints should have been kept confidential. Hagemeyer, who has worked for the city 15 years, said he was not aware of that policy.

"Somebody slipped up," Manzano said.

Members of Greenpeace learned about the public accessibility to fingerprints when they sent a paralegal to the city clerk's office who asked for, and was given, copies of fingerprints. The paralegal also obtained extensive other personal information contained in a 1985 application for permits for 27 members of a teen drug rehabilitation program.

Information on each of the individuals included personal affidavits with home addresses and phone numbers, driver's license numbers, Social Security numbers, birth dates, personal descriptions, photographs and arrest and conviction records.

According to Hagemeyer, Glendale's fingerprinting law was adopted in 1945 to protect residents from World War II-era bogus solicitors claiming to represent charities and veterans' organizations.

Only solicitors from charitable organizations with offices outside Glendale are required to submit such information, according to the ordinance. Solicitors for local charities and churches are exempt. Hagemeyer said only one or two outside organizations a year apply for the special permits.

Charitable solicitors also are the only individuals fingerprinted by the city clerk's office. Fingerprinting for other permits, such as for operating billiard rooms, arcades and taxis, is done by the Glendale Police Department and kept confidential, police officials said. Neither permits nor prints are required for door-to-door salesmen.

Members of Greenpeace said they fear copies of fingerprints could be used by others to obtain additional private information and to document their political views. They said the organization participates in some controversial political issues, such as opposing the dumping of nuclear waste in the ocean.

However, they said that, even if Glendale kept the fingerprints confidential, they still would refuse to comply. John Larkin, regional canvass director for Greenpeace, said members "feel fingerprinting is degrading and has a strong taint of criminality."

Larkin said Glendale's fingerprinting requirement was the first ever encountered by the organization, which has canvassed 22 other cities in the Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, Manhattan Beach and Burbank.

Despite the city's stringent rules requiring permits, illegal solicitations are common, according to the city clerk's office and Glendale police. However, Manzano, a 19-year veteran with the city attorney's office, said he does not recall ever prosecuting an individual for unlawful soliciting.

'Citizens Have Right to Know'

Hagemeyer maintains that fingerprinting of solicitors is justified. "Our citizens have the right to know who is out in the fields," he said, "and whether or not these are the kind of people we want ringing our doorbells at night."

The California Supreme Court in July reaffirmed earlier court decisions that fingerprints are constitutionally protected by privacy rights.

The case before the Supreme Court involved a Sacramento woman, Christopher Ann Perkey, who challenged the constitutionality of a rule first imposed in 1982 by the state Department of Motor Vehicles requiring fingerprinting before issuing a driver's license. Submitting to fingerprinting had been voluntary before then.

In the DMV case, the court ruled that the fingerprint requirement was a valid way for the DMV to guard against fraudulent applications and thus promote highway safety. But the court also said that fingerprints are private and copies cannot be given out indiscriminately.

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