One evening a little while ago I was driving home and encountered a Police ‘booze bus’ breath-test checkpoint.

image: BOP sunlive (click)

Cars queued up in a funnel pattern set up with cones and flashing lights … when it was my turn, the police officer reached in through my car window, held the breath screening thingy in front of my face and said:
“Please say your name and address.”

I replied (into the machine) “You don’t really want my name and address, you just need enough breath for a sample.”

This was not well received.

“Look here. It’s the law that when a police officer asks for your name and address, you must supply them,” he said sternly and scanned the display of the breathalyser.

“Well yes,” I said. “That’s if the question is being asked as part of an inquiry. Not just when you need some breath for a blood alcohol screening device.”

He looked at me hard.
He looked at my car and who else was in it.
He looked again at the reading on the breath-testing thingy.

Then he frowned at the queue of cars building up behind me, thought about it, and waved me on without another word.

I was reminded of that episode by a blog post I Am Detained By The Feds For Not Answering Questions from Paul Karl Lukacs about his experience refusing to answer questions at a US Customs and Border Patrol…

“Why were you in China?” asked the passport control officer, a woman with the appearance and disposition of a prison matron.

“None of your business,” I said.

Her eyes widened in disbelief.

“Excuse me?” she asked.

“I’m not going to be interrogated as a pre-condition of re-entering my own country,” I said.

This did not go over well. She asked a series of questions, such as how long I had been in China, whether I was there on personal business or commercial business, etc. I stood silently. She said that her questions were mandated by Congress and that I should complain to Congress instead of refusing to cooperate with her. …

Paul’s post, and his follow-up 10 Brief Responses To 700 Comments About Refusing To Answer Questions At Passport Control are well worth a read in their entirety.

image: TV3 (click)

Now, look, I’m all for getting drunk drivers off the road, and if these ‘booze bus’ checkpoint campaigns work, GREAT. I’ll also be the first to concede that maybe Paul and I were being pedantic and uncooperative — even oppositional. But haven’t we each got a point?

Paul: the U.S. government does not have the power to prevent a citizen’s re-entry. You have the right to remain silent.

Me: A person in NZ must tell a police officer their name and address if asked — but only if there’s an actual purpose in the question.

Any thoughts?