In a 5-4 decision on Monday, the United States Supreme Court ruled that people must provide their name to police when asked. The ruling upheld a Nevada law that makes refusal to provide identification to police a criminal offense. Privacy advocates have argued that this will give law enforcement officers the power to demand identification enabling them to perform database searches on people who have done nothing wrong, thus circumventing fourth and fifth amendment constitutional protections from unreasonable searches and self-incrimination. The Nevada police argued that identification requests are a routine part of investigations, and not surprisingly, framed their case in part based on the necessity to capture “terrorists.” The ruling was triggered by a 2000 stop of Dudley Hiibel who was stopped after a caller told police that Hiibel was arguing with his daughter. Hiibel was arrested after refusing to give his ID and asserting his right to remain silent.
In the majority opinion, the Supreme Court stated that the fourth and fifth amendments were not violated and that the stop was consistent with the “reasonable cause” standard under the Terry case and that requesting Hiibel’s identification was consistent with the Nevada law. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote: “One’s identity is, by definition, unique; yet it is, in another sense, a universal characteristic” and that “answering a request to disclose a name is likely to be so insignificant in the scheme of things as to be incriminating only in unusual circumstances.” However, earlier in the opinion he writes that “obtaining a suspect’s name in the course of a Terry stop serves important government interests. Knowledge of identity may inform an officer that a suspect is wanted for another offense,” demonstrating that law enforcement officers can request identification as a way of examining people for unrelated crimes.
Some legal experts have noted that police can only demand the names of people “reasonably suspected” of being involved in a crime, however, there is little reason to assume that law enforcement officials will not abuse their power given the history of law enforcement abuses in the United States. In addition to the requests for identification that will occur in cities around the United States, the ruling has a potential to affect political dissent in the United States, especially at protests during upcoming Republican and Democratic political conventions. Even before the Supreme Court ruling, transit police in Boston announced a plan to randomly stop and ID people using public transit during the convention. While concerns over “terrorism” are cited for increased security at this summer’s conventions, they have the affect of stifling dissent. Intensive security operations at this month’s G8 Summit in Georgia, including the use of the military for domestic law enforcement are simultaneously credited in part for a lack of protests and praised by law enforcement officials as a flawless handling of protestors. Similarly, in the Fall of 2003, the Miami Police Department used a process of constant intimidation (illegal searches, profiling of “activists,” illegal intelligence gathering) and use of extreme force to suppress protests during the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) Ministerial in November in what has become known as “The Miami Model.”