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Are biometric ID tools evil?

August 18, 2012 07:00 AM ET

In general, privacy advocates view biometric tools -- especially those that can operate from a distance, such as facial recognition systems -- as grease on the slippery slope toward an Orwellian future in which the government can track everyone at all times with perfect accuracy.

So we find ourselves in a strange position in which some religious conservatives and some secular liberal privacy advocates both agree that biometric identification is evil.

Both groups can be vocal and influential. I predict that general opposition to biometrics will grow strong over the next few years.

But so will support for the technology.

Your body is the credit card

The cashless society is coming. The first step is the use of smartphones to make wireless payments.

Google, Apple and others are pushing hard to move money out of your wallet and into your phone.

The idea is that you'll walk into a store, transfer money from your account to the store, then walk out. No wallet necessary.

But without your wallet, how do they know it's really you?

Apple is buying the fingerprint company AuthenTec. It's likely that Apple will use the acquisition to build fingerprint ID into its products so you can use your Apple ID to buy anything.

Android phones are expected to increasingly offer fingerprint ID systems and other biometric tools.

It's just a matter of time before a majority of Americans are carrying biometric ID scanners in their own pockets.

Florida schools are talking about using biometric ID technology not only in the cafeteria, but also in the library and on the bus.

Japan is looking at using facial-recognition systems and other tools to speed up immigration procedures at two major airports.

A day care center in Minnesota is using fingerprint ID to make sure people picking up children are authorized to do so.

Biometric technology is even being proposed as the solution for cloud-computing security.

The people who accept and approve of biometric ID technology do so because it adds security and convenience to our everyday lives.

So it appears we're headed for a clash. On the one hand, you have a huge push for biometrics to replace signatures, passwords and photo IDs.

On the other, you have a large number of people who consider biometrics an unparalleled evil, and they will refuse to participate.

Who's right and who's wrong? Is biometric technology the answer to our security problems? Or is it just plain evil?

writes about technology and tech culture. You can contact Mike and learn more about him at Elgan.com, or subscribe to his free email newsletter, Mike's List. You can also see more articles by Mike Elgan on Computerworld.com.

Read more about Privacy in Computerworld's Privacy Topic Center.



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