Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Finger prints

It transpires there are times when twitter's 140 characters are just not enough to get across what I want to say. Actually, that is perhaps a lie since my friend and I managed to thrash out the premise of our argument in about 6 tweets. Personally, I feel this opens the door to how Prime Minister's Question time might be improved if Gorden Brown and David Cameron had to conduct it via an iphone. Is there an app for that yet?

But I digress...

The subject of our debate was the use of fingerprint scanners in school cafeterias as mentioned in the children's news website here. (Why yes, this is where I get my news from. DON'T YOU JUDGE ME!).

Like the concept of national ID cards, such plans tend to open up a can of worms regarding an individual's privacy and even more where a minor is concerned. Words such as 'disgusting' and 'appalling' are banded around before being thrown on placards and taken to the streets. The question I am pondering (and it is a genuine ponder, I have yet to decorate a sign) is what exactly our enthusiastic protesters really object to.

On the plus side for the above mentioned scheme, paying for school dinners via finger prints would remove the need for children to carry money, prevent loss of meal cards and speed up the lunch queue. The first would hopefully save Mum and Dad the trial of finding the required change in the morning and prevent kids being bullied out of the cash everyone knows they are carrying. The downside seems to be a more certain way of identifying the child. Yet, is not the sproglet registered at the school by their name? They had better be, since it's a legal requirement to attend until the age of 16. The record of the finger print will doubtless be held for as long or as short a time as school records have always been held.

The same argument holds for national ID cards. Perhaps there is a point for not making them compulsory, but do not most of us hold passports? Are our wallets not filled with driving licenses, credit cards and other forms of identification that we use regularly for exactly that purpose? Why do we feel better about a system in which a photograph identifies us instead of our biometric data?

I conclude that people prefer a world in which fraud can exist. If they feel that they could, in principal, fake their passport, move to Texas and run for President they feel more free. On the other hand, when they can't get a car loan because some bastard stole their credit card and eloped with an Elvis impersonator to Vegas they get pissed, if only because they didn't think of that first. I like the idea that I could cut all ties and sail off to Fiji any time I desired as much as anybody, but if you want passport you can't do this without breaking a truck load of laws and I doubt any of us are prepared to give up what identity security we do have in order to make that procedure easier.

Even without the finger print scans that US border control diligently collect, if the Government wanted to track me they have school records, college exam results, job contracts, credit card purchases and tax filings (note to self: do these soon). The only addition my finger prints would make is to add a level of assurance that the data was accurate. But then, one of my most recent papers was entitled "A test suite for quantitative comparison of hydrodynamic codes in astrophysics". No one makes up shit like that.

Perhaps the point is; since we choose to operate as a society, it's too late for this argument.

That all said, if anyone is still concerned about the use of such a system for school kids, I would like to reiterate the assurances of Bethany, aged 12 from York:

"In my old school we tried using finger print scanning in the library - it never worked because people's hands were so dirty!"

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