Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ihre Papiere, bitte!

The police has started checking the legality of foreign-looking people in public places, and it has caused a lot of passionate response, both for and against.

I am not very passionate about it either way, but can anyone explain to me how the hell is the damn thing supposed to work? There is no obligation to carry ID in Finland; people are, however, obliged to say who they are if the police asks them, and then the police can try to check this out through some database (I assume the population register database) using their social security number.

Now, there are people who have a social security number. They are almost always citizens and legal residents, although there are very few illegals among them (former legal residents who failed to renew their legal residence). And then there are people who don't have a social security number: illegals and tourists, and also very short-term legal residents and newly arrived legal residents who haven't got a social security number yet.

The question is, how is the police supposed to distinguish the tourists from the illegals? The tourists don't have to have an ID with them. The police probably has access to the database of tourists who have visas, and possibly have access to the database of visa-free tourists who entered Finland directly from a non-Schengen country. I am not sure they have a database of all non-Schengen tourists currently legally within the Schengen area, and I am absolutely sure they don't have a database of all the Schengen residents who happen to be visiting Finland at the moment. So, are they just hunting the illegals who are too dumb to say "I am a tourist"?

A few days ago HS polled its readers on the question of "may the police ask for passports of foreign-looking people in the streets?". The question was somewhat strange in this context because a) this is not what the police was planning on doing, and b) nobody is expected to carry a passport with them at all times, and I think few people do.

(In the unlikely event they meant "should we make a law obliging foreigners to carry their passports with them at all times, and then can the police ask for them", my answer would be certainly not - a passport is an unwieldy thing to carry, and the police should damn better be satisfied with the driver's license they themselves have given me. I don't, however, have strong opinions one way or another on the laws that require everybody to carry some sort of an ID, whether they concern everybody, or foreigners, or people who don't have a Finnish social security number.)

Anyway, I suspect I am about to get the answer to my question. The police checked out two nightclubs last night. They checked 59 people, and took 9 of them to the police station to find out their identity and status.

9 out of 59 is a very disturbing number. It might of course mean that 9 out of 59 were really illegal aliens too stupid to pretend to be tourists, or that they told police to bugger off, or that they were simply unconscious to begin with. But it is also fairly likely to be the number of people who did not have any papers on them.

If - and it's still an "if" - the police is really dragging every foreign-looking person without papers to the station, it does, in fact, mean that you have to carry an ID with you at all time. And while it's not necessarily a bad thing in principle, it shouldn't be up to the police to decide. We have that thing here, called Eduskunta. It makes laws. If you want a new law about carrying ID, please ask them.

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