Biometrics, or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the Man
I’m really opposed to having to give my physical details to state organisations. I don’t want to have my iris scanned, my fingerprints taken, or my nakedness exposed via back-scatter X-ray. I’m not sure if my objections are rational or just intuitive.
Certainly, I don’t trust the bastards. There’s enough evidence of general incompetence and specific malevolence among those with access to personal data to want to minimise my exposure.
I feel that biometrics are weak, both in terms of their generally high rates of false positives and negatives, and in the fact that some of them are very easy to fake. I’m worried about the uses to which they might be put.
Since the US started fingerprinting foreigners on entry, my desire to visit dropped to around zero. That’s OK: I’ve never been there. I don’t know what I’m missing. But now Japan’s at it, too. Never going to Japan again would be harder. I spent a couple of years living there; I speak Japanese. I like the place!
Since discovering that I can’t go to Japan without being fingerprinted, I’ve felt in a bit of a quandary. Are my principled objections really that strong? Am I kicking at a stone wall, hurting only my own toes?
I found something like an answer this evening, as I was listening a programme on the BBC World Service about voice biometrics. Apparently, they work well enough that they are being used in Spain and Germany to identify criminals. (Or to perpetrate miscarriages of justice. Who can be sure?)
The point is, though, that your speech is a hard biometric to keep private. It’s available to anyone in hearing distance. Facial features, and stride profiles are similar. If it’s already possible to use voices, faces, and walking patterns, what is private about fingerprints?
Maybe I should just stop worrying and learn to love the Man/New World Order/dystopian sci-fi future. I don’t know.
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