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A large retailer implemented a pilot scheme to accept cheques over $200 only from customers agreeing to supply a fingerprint. I was asked to investigate whether the scheme caused an interference with privacy.

The complainant and his wife went to pay for their purchases at the store. His wife wrote out a cheque from their joint account and was asked for her fingerprint. They alleged they had been given no warning that cheques over $200 would require a fingerprint. They felt they had been humiliated in front of other customers and that the practice, associated with criminals, implied a slur on their character.

I asked the retailer to explain the purpose for collecting the fingerprint. The retailer informed me that the policy of fingerprinting had been implemented on the advice of the Police. It was being used to try and stop fraudsters who had stolen cheque books and also articles of identification. Signs had been put up in the store drawing customersÂ’ attention to the requirement of supplying fingerprints with cheques over $200.

The Police were contacted for more information about the scheme. Their privacy officer told me that the police had not issued guidelines to retailers concerning fingerprinting but that some fraud squads had encouraged retailers to obtain fingerprints as a deterrent to fraud, to enable the Police to eliminate other people from cheque fraud enquiries and to offer clear evidence against fraudsters who are caught.

Before I reached an opinion on whether the actions of the retailer amounted to a breach of the Privacy Act the retailer decided to withdraw from the programme in recognition of complaints from the public. The complainant was satisfied by an apology and the change in policy and my investigation was discontinued.

July 1995

Collecting personal information - Retailer - Fingerprint identification for cheques - Pilot scheme - Practice ceased following investigation - Information privacy principles 1 and 4