2 Mart 2009 Pazartesi


As technology makes life richer and easier, we leave a trail of information
that is susceptible to prying eyesWithin the next four months, a major Bay Area
supermarket chain plans to introduce a payment system that uses biometric
fingerprint authentication to verify customers' identities. Under this system,
shoppers in checkout lines won't need to use cash, checks, debit cards or credit
cards. Instead, they can place their fingers on scanners that read fingerprints,
and once the device links to their bank or credit card accounts, they can buy
groceries, get cash back and do everything else shoppers do.ImagesView Larger
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Insight Editor Jim Finefrock and reporter Jonathan Curiel talk about how
Americans might as well face up the fact that there is little privacy left.]The
system is already used in cities around the United States, including Portland,
Ore., and Chicago, where one shopper says it has changed his life for the
better. Linc Thelen, a 37-year-old interior designer, says the fingerprint
system -- known commercially as Pay By Touch -- is convenient to use and
expedites his way through grocery lines at Jewel-Osco, where he shops. Thelen
says the system lets people leave their wallets behind, so they don't have to
worry about being robbed or losing their credit cards."I had no reservation,"
Thelen said in a phone interview. "It's a safe way to store information."But no
system is 100 percent foolproof.Despite the fact that armed men guard the
computers that store the customers' virtual fingerprints, despite the fact that
Bank of America's former security chief now heads Pay By Touch's security
division, and despite the fact that Pay By Touch hires people to try to expose
vulnerabilities in its computer system (so those vulnerabilities can be
eliminated), Pay By Touch President John Morris acknowledges that "it's not
impossible" for computer hackers to figure out how to tamper with its
information.And therein lies one of the 21st century's most vexing problems:
More and more of our personal data are captured and stored by corporate and
government interests, and are potentially available to anyone with the
technological, legal or financial means to access that information.Whether it's
phone calls we make, library books we check out, CDs we buy on the Internet or
divorces we finalize in court, we leave a trail of information that becomes
susceptible to prying eyes. For the price of a bus pass, you can pay a company
to supply anyone's address, phone number, political affiliation, estimated
income and property history. For $20 more, you can find out if that person is
married or divorced, has a criminal record, and what sort of jobs he or she has
worked.Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., says she will introduce a "privacy bill of
rights" because identity theft and security failures of personal records have
become "one of the most important issues facing us as individuals and as a
nation."The availability of personal information -- downloadable onto laptop
computers, which are increasingly being fitted with fingerprint technology -- is
changing the culture in ways that may seem trivial but are really benchmarks for
a new society already in its formative stages.A small example: Unbeknownst to
the men who date her, Judy runs background checks on all of them, using a
private investigator to dig out any "red flags" that would presage troubling
behavior. A businesswoman in Southern California, Judy, 50, uses a company
called DateSmart, whose client base has boomed in the past five years as more
people confront the perils of online dating."I'm glad the information is out
there," says Judy, who did not want her last name used because of concerns her
suitors would read this article. "The men I'm talking to online are complete
strangers. And I have absolutely no knowledge of their character other than what
they're saying in their profiles. I need to feel comfortable knowing that
they're not an ax murderer. The people you meet might be well dressed, but you
never know if they have any criminal history. It's for (my) safety."Background
checks are nothing new. What's changed are the speed with which you can obtain
them, their relatively small price (some companies advertise free checks) and
their growing public acceptance. The information revolution has transformed the
background check into a common and casual tool, and those being scrutinized
probably don't have a clue. More obvious are the security cameras embedded in
nearly every major American city, including New York, Milwaukee, Chicago,
Atlanta, Los Angeles and, yes, San Francisco, where lenses record people's
activities in such crime-ridden neighborhoods as Bayview-Hunters Point and the
Western Addition. The spread of these cameras is championed by authorities, who
say it reduces criminal activity, and criticized by the ACLU, which says the
equipment is an unnecessary intrusion into public spaces.Civil liberties groups
have joined the widespread outcry against the government's monitoring of
Americans' phone-call records. Two weeks ago in federal court, the ACLU
challenged the legal rationale behind the National Security Agency program,
arguing that the NSA's actions -- involving "data mining" of records provided by
AT&T and other telephone companies -- violate Americans' rights to free
speech and privacy as guaranteed under the First and Fourth Amendments. Last
week, privacy experts raised questions about the U.S. government's monitoring of
international bank transfers -- previously secret data surveillance officials
say is justified by the fight against terrorism.Americans' rights to privacy
will be tested even more in the next few years as biometric technology creeps
increasingly into everyday arenas. For example, on the campus of UC San Diego,
biometric experts are testing a soda machine that uses both fingerprint and
face-recognition technology. The machine is in a lounge for grad students in UC
San Diego's computer science building."The students are very excited about
getting it working," Serge Belongie, a UC San Diego associate professor of
computer science, says in a phone interview. "People think it's very cool. ...
No one uses money. They have accounts. What would be fun is if (the machine)
recognizes you and says, 'Would you like your usual?' "If UC San Diego students
are reluctant to use the machine, their privacy concerns are outweighed by
convenience -- a sentiment echoed in survey after survey on biometric
technology. In March, Unisys Corp. released a report on public perception of
"identity management" that said convenience and efficiency were the two biggest
reasons consumers would use biometric technology. (The most preferred biometric
methods are fingerprints and voice recognition, according to the survey. The
least preferred, because of its perceived intrusiveness, is an iris or eye
scan.)Two of the biggest turnoffs for those who shun biometric technology:
suspicion of how the technology works and loss of privacy. Among respondents
from North America, just 56 percent said they'd be willing to share their
fingerprint with a government organization such as a post office or tax
authority. Among respondents from the Asia-Pacific region, 71 percent said
they'd share their fingerprint with the government."As consumer confidence grows
in the large-scale usage of (biometric technology) and standards are more
generally comfortably adopted, you're going to see a pretty rapid migration" to
it, says Mark Cohn, Unisys vice president for homeland security solutions.Cohn,
a principal architect of the Department of Homeland Security's US-VISIT Exit
system, which uses fingerprint technology to run background checks on visa
applicants and verify their entry to and arrival from the United States, says
Malaysia offers a preview of how the United States may change in the coming
years.Since 2001, the Malay government has issued a biometric "multipurpose
card" to Malaysians 12 years and older. The card, which features a thumbprint
and photograph, acts as a passport, driver's license, ATM card, toll and parking
pass, and medical record that lists blood type and any allergies.The card is
convenient to use -- but it's a nightmare for Malaysians who lose it or have it
stolen. Crime syndicates in Malaysia have altered cards with different
photographs and used them to give members new identities, though the Malay
government insists these identity thieves can't access the original cardholders'
personal information. Special chip technology and other password features
prevent this, they say. Also, the cardholder's fingerprint -- rather than being
visible on the card -- is encrypted in the card itself: To reveal the
fingerprint, the card must be inserted into a special biometric device that
compares the encrypted print with that of the person claiming to be the
cardholder.For anyone who has read Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four," where
"telescreens" keep track of people's lives, this new biometric technology will
seem like fiction come to life. It's showing up everywhere. By the end of this
year, U.S. passport agencies hope to issue "electronic passports" with computer
chips that have digital photos of the holders. With the help of face-recognition
machines, airport security can compare a photo with the face of the passport
holder. For two years, an American corporation, VeriChip, has sold
government-approved electronic chips that are inserted under people's skin to
give doctors instant access to patients' medical histories.In 2008, as mandated
by the Real ID Act, states plan to issue driver's licenses linked to a database
that includes each license holder's photo and Social Security number. These
licenses (civil liberties groups call them national identity cards) will likely
include a biometric photo of the driver accessible by authorities.In the
meantime, banks are considering using iris scans and even palm scans at ATMs in
an effort to cut down on fraud. (In 1999, Bank United in Texas adopted iris-scan
technology at three of its ATMs in a test that was discontinued when Washington
Mutual took over the bank.)Some people love the new technology. Others shun
it.Pay By Touch admits it has encountered some resistance among shoppers it
approached in supermarkets that already use the company's fingerprint service.
But Morris, its president, says many of these customers are quickly won over by
the convenience of Pay By Touch, which is free for consumers, and that the
company keeps data points based on users' fingerprints, not actual fingerprints.
So far, supermarkets in 40 states use the Pay By Touch system.Pay By Touch,
which is based in San Francisco, wouldn't say which Bay Area supermarket chain
will start using its fingerprint system in the next four months -- only that the
chain will use the system in just a handful of its Bay Area stores. Pay By Touch
users sign up voluntarily and are under no obligation to use it at the checkout
line.Pay By Touch says it takes great care to safeguard its users' data. After
fingerprints are converted into algorithms, they're encrypted, then stored in
IBM computers. Those algorithms can't be reconverted into an exact copy of the
fingerprint, though Pay By Touch may eventually store users' actual fingerprints
if the technology improves, Morris says. The company insists it will never sell
users' personal information or fingerprints to anyone else -- a pledge that's
backed up in writing when users sign up with the company. But what if federal
authorities, citing national security, insist on the finger scan and payment
history of a Pay By Touch user?Pam Dixon, who heads the World Privacy Forum, a
public research group, went to Chicago to warn potential Pay By Touch users
about possible dangers."It didn't stick," she says. "People were (more)
concerned with (convenience than) the potential risks. People can put their
thumb on a pad and be done with it. But meanwhile, their biometric data is
sitting with another company, a third party, that's subject to subpoena. One
argument that I made: Let's say that every supermarket in the country,
particularly the large chains, (use) a biometric payment system. It's a law
enforcement dream because who needs a biometric database run by the U.S.
government when you've got one being run by private companies?"Citing the recent
disclosure by the Veterans Administration, which said a computer with credit
information on millions of veterans had been stolen, Dixon says, "The second
issue is information security. If the VA can't keep its records secure, which is
a government agency that has all sorts of strict controls that are supposed to
be in place, how on Earth can a private company without the resources of
something like the VA manage to keep something secure? When we have a credit
card stolen, we can call the credit card company and say, 'Give me a new
number.' But you can't do that with your biometric. You can't say, 'Give me a
new fingerprint.' "Morris dismisses such concerns, saying that Pay By Touch will
actually decrease the likelihood that consumers' credit information is stolen or
misappropriated. "I think (Pay By Touch users) get pretty rapidly that it's the
ultimate way to secure their private data," he says. "It connects (their
accounts) to something that's uniquely them, as opposed to handing a credit card
over to a stranger or writing a personal check that seven or eight humans touch
before it gets in their statement. Securing information by a biometric is a
giant leap forward. (Users) like that they don't have to pull their card out
anymore. They (tell us they) like that they don't have to carry their (purses or
wallets) through the parking lot of an urban supermarket. There's a physical
security benefit. Their numbers are never displayed. The safety of securing
their data is the No. 1 thing they like."The marketplace will determine whether
the public is ready to accept commercial fingerprint identification. Investors
in Pay By Touch believe that day is here, capitalizing the company with $190
million in the past 12 months. More than 2.5 million shoppers already use the
Pay By Touch system. Morris envisions a day when all stores -- even mom-and-pop
ones -- offer a Pay By Touch option.Soon, customers will be able to use Pay By
Touch from home with the help of fingerprint readers attached to their
computers. In ancient China, rulers would put their fingerprints on documents to
give them an official seal. Artists would also mark their work with prints. It
wasn't until the late 1800s that authorities realized they could use
fingerprints to catch criminals. Their evolution as a way to pay for groceries
is a 21st century twist fueled by technology. It's also a trade-off between
privacy and convenience. Welcome to the brave new world in Aisle 5.

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