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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Biometrics: Involuntary Bread Crumbs

I have talked here about how we leave a digital trail behind us, bread crumbs as it were, as we move through the digital world online.

Unfortunately modern security technology has a number of equivalently malevolent means in place that further reduce your privacy.

One is biometrics.  Biometrics is technology focused on "automatic identification or identity verification of living persons using their enduring physical or behavioral characteristics" according to the Electronic Freedom Foundation website.  This might include identifying you from your face, your fingerprints, retinas, really anything that makes you stand out from everyone else.  Do you have a duck-like walk, tilt your head a certain way when you brush back your hair, have an obvious mole on your neck?  Any of these can be used as part of biometrics in addition to or along with the standard biometric data we are all familiar with.

We give our biometrics information out freely where ever we go - we leave DNA bits, fingerprints, we have our faces or eyes uncovered.

This has led modern governments to discover that the advancement of computer technology allows them to monitor society at large for these characteristics: everything from facial recognition at airports to cameras on street corners.

Unlink Google and its friends who collect your internet bread crumbs for mere profit the government, at least here in the USA, is required to do this.  For example: Section Sec. 303(b)(1) of the 2002 Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act requires that only "machine-readable, tamper-resistant visas and other travel and entry documents that use biometric identifiers" be used on things like documentation for aliens.  Section 403(c) of the USA-PATRIOT Act requires the government to "develop and certify a technology standard that can be used to verify the identity of persons."

And the list goes on.

All in the name of our security.

But is exchanging our liberty for this security really a good thing?

On-line security issues such as cookies, monitoring our searches, and so forth are all voluntary.  If I don't use a computer no one knows what I am thinking about or doing.  If I don't use my cellphone no one knows where I am.

Biometrics is different.

In the case of biometrics I am the information being captured.  So unless I stay out of the mall the mall's biometric systems (video, etc.) will capture and record my presence.

I suppose I could where a ski mask or space suite to the mall...

I think the point here is that its one thing to allow the government or private industry to monitor something that I may voluntarily use such as a cellphone.

Its quite another to all the government or private industry to collect personal information about me, without my consent, by my mere presence.

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