On June 21, 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that people do not have a constitutional right to refuse to tell police their names, so that now the government is free to arrest and punish people who won’t cooperate by revealing their identity. The ruling was a follow up to a 1968 decision that said police may briefly detain someone on reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing, without the stronger standard of probable cause, to get more information. Justices said that during such brief detentions, known as Terry stops after the 1968 ruling, people must answer questions about their identities. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy stated, “Obtaining a suspect’s name in the course of a Terry stop serves important government interests.”
“You have the right to remain silent.” Well, not really any more. You did before the Supreme Court handed down this, but now, when a police officer suspecting you of a crime stops you in the street and asks your name, you can actually be prosecuted for refusing to answer.
For police officers and citizens, the ruling is a major change in the Investigative Stop (or Terry stop) analysis. Previously, unless police had reasonable suspicion, citizens could simply walk away from a police officer. Now, apparently, there is no privacy in one’s name, and any citizen has to, at the very least, give an police officer his or her name if asked. The decision is a defeat for privacy rights advocates who argue that the government could use this power to force people who have done nothing wrong to submit to fingerprinting or divulge even more personal information.