Wednesday, 13 April 2005

Biometrics: your finger or your life?

Biometrics may seem just the ticket for enhancing security, but those gruesome half-jokes and fictional stories, about people being killed so that their eyeballs can be removed to fool iris scanners, may not be so far fetched after all.

The 9 April 2005 issue of New Scientist magazine reports that a man car-jacked in Malaysia had his fingertip chopped off when the robbers discovered that they couldn't start his car without his fingerprint, and there have (not surprisingly) been calls to ensure that biometric systems work only if the body part concerned is still attached to a living person.

Now that may be an urban myth. I sure hope so, it won't be the first time the media have reported urban myths as truth, though I have a great deal of respect for New Scientist and don't think they'd be so cavalier as to fail to check their facts (unlike The Observer, a UK newspaper which announced that cows can use tools... based on an escalation from a typo in relation to Betty, the well-known hook-making Caledonian crow!).

But wherever there are opportunities people will exploit them, and we all know from history that human beings can do unspeakable things to other human beings for the sake of money, or religion, or just because someone is in the "wrong" ethnic or social group. And even if it's just a retelling of an urban myth (which I doubt), the story does go to show that I'm not the only person who has little faith in the humanity of man. Whether or not it actually happened, people obviously think it could.

I'm concerned about biometrics generally anyway because of the implications for privacy and civil liberties and the potential for abuse by the authorities, never mind the huge cost to the public purse of installing the required technology and getting it to work properly (in the case of ID cards or passports for instance).

This story just reinforces my misgivings. I know I certainly won't be installing any fingerprint recognition technology for my laptop in a hurry, let alone my car. I'll stick with locks and other things that aren't an irreplaceable part of my anatomy, thank you very much!

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have been using it on a PC for about a year and it is great. On anything that needs a password I can fill in the details, tell the security program to remember it and from then on only have to swipe my finger to get access to anything. Much easier and more secure than PINs and passwords and obviously you would have originally scanned multiple fingers in case of injury. The worry is, the possibility of losing a finger to a really insistent thief, as you mentioned in your post, but every system has its flaws.

R. Bencheikh