News & Politics

Creeping Biometrics

A creeping (and increasingly creepy) intrusion industry is pushing aggressively into our everyday lives, bolstered by government laws and money.
Am I the only one who thinks it's a teeny bit ironic that a visit to the Statue of Liberty—a world renown symbol of America's freedoms—now requires us visitors to surrender a piece of our freedom?


The founders knew from hard experience with the British crown that the protection of individual privacy from the prying eye of authorities was essential for any country striving to be the "Land of the Free." Your personal matters and movements are supposed to be just that—personal, beyond the reach of either government or corporate snoops.


But a creeping (and increasingly creepy) intrusion industry is pushing aggressively into our everyday lives, bolstered by government laws and money. Everything from your travel to your purchases are tracked by massive networks of computers. And now they want not merely data, but little personal pieces of us: our fingerprints, facial features, the iris pattern of our eyes.


To go up into the Statue of Liberty, for example, you now must store your backpacks and such in public lockers. Fine. But rather than the uncomplicated, unobtrusive system of old—put your bag in a locker, drop a coin, take the key, and go—the new system requires that you touch an electronic reader that scans your fingerprint.


This means that your own digit is now the key for getting back your bag ... and the key for what else? Oh, say the operators, trust us—we don't send your print to the authorities. Really? How do we know that? Various government agencies are now authorized to seize our library records or banking information—why would they not feel equally free to grab our biometric data?


Indeed, your digit is going commercial. Piggly Wiggly, Thriftway, and Kroger are among the corporations already beginning to ask that we use our fingerprints, rather than credit cards, to make purchases. It's taking away our privacy, one finger at a time.
Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of "Let's Stop Beating Around the Bush," from Viking Press. For more information, visit jimhightower.com.