privacy conerns

Biometrics & PrivacyIt is no secret that we love convenience.  If this were not the case, most of us would still travel to a stream / river / water to wash our clothes against a rock instead of going to the laundromat / dry cleaners / washing machine in our home.  Or perhaps we would eschew electricity and heat our homes with fire, not use anything that required charging or the need to be ‘powered’ (like your computer, a television, your appliances, lights…).  Maybe we would walk more instead of using our cars to get around.

Not willing to give any of that up?  I get it!  We’re creatures of comfort and convenience.  Heaven knows we don’t have the time or patience to cook a meal instead of putting one in the microwave (or going to some fast food joint to pay for the convenience of others preparing something for us).  We built all this stuff and will hand it off to our children because we know best and have left them a better place than when we grew up in.

And that is the point of this post.  Since we marvel at the changes coming in technology and the convenience that this brings us, it is no surprise we don’t look at the long term effects or possibilities this holds for us.  We’re here in the ‘now’ and don’t have time to contemplate the future impact.  But make no mistake, the changes happening today and in our recent past continue to reverberate well into the future.

Let’s talk about privacy.  An entire organization has been built from the ground up under the auspices of protecting us – the TSA.  This very expensive and very (in my opinion) ineffective organization continues to grow and has started to permeate many other areas of society – apart from air travel – with barely any discussion of citizen concerns for their mission and tactics.  A new force of our government to dictate the behavior of the masses.

But I digress – how did we come here, what is happening now, and what is the potential impact on our (and our children’s) future.  Let’s look at a couple of experiments in our public schools.  Like it or not, once these experiments start in our schools they are more than well on their way into many other areas of society and our lives.

An article written in the USA Today (by Brian Shane) recently caught my eye – Palm scanners get thumbs up in schools, hospitals.  While many showed only superficial concern (transmission of germs by multiple folks using the device – really?  That’s all you have”  Don’t even think about all those folks grabbing the door handle of the bathroom you just existed without washing their hands…) there was one parent who opted their son out of this experiment.  Imagine that, his son would have to pay with (gasp) cash (talk about dirty!).  And would be (gasp) responsible for securing it until needing it.  How inconvenient for all involved – yet it certainly takes care of any privacy concerns.

Another article from CBS Houston had the headline of Schools’ Tracking Devices Causes Controversy.  Here the students movements are tracked like boxes of merchandise waiting to be shipped to fulfill our shopping needs at our local WalMart (or mom-n-pop store if you prefer).  RFID has been around and in use for some time, and expanding this technology seems to be on the rise.  But when one student refused to play well with this experiment (that was suppose to assist in tracking attendance, thus securing more federal funds according to the article) they were threatened with removal from the school.  How’s that for an education (or indoctrination – comply or else)?

Now my intent here is not to come across as someone that sees evil or ill intent with technology.  I did, however, want to use words to get you to think in stark terms of the initial convenience promised and the current tactics for asking for you to comply with these benevolent keepers of our kids.  And technology is good, it can be a great help, and I’m not suggesting we roll back the clock.  I am saying we may not have thought very far in the future about how these devices – and the information culled from us and shared in massive data repositories – will be used as we move forward.

Are you keeping an eye open for the advances in technology that are coming near you?  Where would you draw the line on privacy?  Biometrics (eye / finger / palm scanning)?  Naked body scanners and intrusive pat downs (coming or are already at an airport near you)?  Embedded RFID chips?  Dependence on credit cards (that are tracked well, but there are improvements and additional conveniences in the works)?  Think about the future of where all this information ends up and how the lives of those that follow will be impacted (for good, and perhaps not so good).


This is an issue that is no longer in the realm of science fiction – it is happening today!  And we collectively yawn… Perhaps it is time to review a few of the issues and concerns with this technology since it is coming to an area near you (if is hasn’t already) very soon!

You may be most informed about the use of facial recognition on social networks – especially by Facebook.  This gives many pause for concern of their privacy because … well, let’s face it, Facebook has not had a stellar track record in the area of privacy with their user data.  Imagine if someone decided to use the data gathered from this large user base – either without telling you or by a hacker that tapped into this resource – for less than noble purposes.  It is not the makings of that warm, fuzzy feeling we would like to have!  For a good article on this issue, check out Why Facebook’s Facial Recognition is Creepy by Sarah Jacobsson Purewal (PCWorld).   Sarah challenges us with

‘… the end of privacy as we know it–imagine, a world in which someone can simply take a photo of you on the street, in a crowd, or with a telephoto lens, and discover everything about you on the internet.’

Sound far-fetched?  It’s not, and we are helping Facebook do this by tagging our photos.  A different look at privacy and how our data is being used!  Perhaps a better explanation can be found in this short video and in the article that accompanied it, titled ‘In the future, can you remain anonymous?’ by David Goldman (CNN).

Speaking of government or use by authorities, while the intents and purposes are certainly good, the potential for abuse also grows.  One article that addresses this is ‘Crime-Fighting Facial Recognition Technology Stirs Controversy‘ by Jamie Colby.  But it’s not just law enforcement, think of the various functions of government that will eventually adopt such technological solutions – the division of Motor Vehicles, the regulatory areas that handle hunting, fishing, firearm purchases, finances, and other agencies that will jump on this bandwagon.  Top that with private industries like social networking and advertising agencies, you have a recipe for misuse and abuse of your privacy.

If you are interested in how this technology works, check out ‘How Facial Recognition Systems Work‘ by Kevin Bonsor and Ryan Johnson (HowStuffWorks).  Another good read is from Wikipedia (which also treats the subjects of weaknesses, privacy concerns and effectiveness of existing systems).  Now is the time to better understand the potential uses and pitfalls of these systems so you can make educated decisions on them as technology moves forward.