Monday, May 12, 2008

The Rise of the Machines

A few weeks ago, Peter got a new laptop. Well, I guess it would more properly be called a new-to-him laptop since he and a friend did a swap. Peter traded a big, heavy laptop with a ginormous screen for a little, cute laptop with a built-in tablet. The new laptop is easier to lug around and the tablet allows for fine-detail photographic post-processing on the road.

The laptop has another feature that Peter thinks is the best thing since the invention of the Internet. Instead of typing in a password, you can just swipe your thumb on a sensor to log in. I don't think this is a nifty feature at all. I think it's the tool of the nefarious Satan of Technology.

Peter offered to set me up with an account on the machine. I accepted, but warned him that there was no way I was going to give that thing my thumb print. We got off on a tangent, arguing about the pros and cons of biometric logins.

Peter thinks I'm being silly - it's just the login to a personal laptop. I use horrible cliches I learned in law school. It's a slippery slope....It's the thin edge of the wedge. You start with just a simple login to the personal computer and then one day you find that some Electronic Big Brother knows everything you've bought in the last year, every web site you've visited, every thought you've had.

You might argue that such things can be tracked anyway, but the difference is that there's no way to establish a definitive link between the user and the actions. If you're logging in with your thumb print, then "wasn't me, must have been somebody else" becomes a more difficult argument to make.

Maybe it's just the contrarian in me, but I am leery of entering into a process that makes definitive identification and tracking easier. I don't want my thumb print scanned to use a computer. I don't want a passport that carries biometric data like an iris scan.

Peter reminded me that I had to get my fingerprints done to work in the financial industry in Chicago. It's part of an SEC regulation and I remember detesting the thought of it, but grudgingly accepting it to gain employment. I'm a practical person, sometimes you have to give up a right or a little bit of privacy to get something that you need. But the trade-off has to be equal. Giving up my thumb print to use the home computer is not a fair deal.

Peter's bemused by my refusal and heated anti-biometric rhetoric. I'm surprised by his shrugging acceptance of it. (What's worse is that I suspect he thinks the scanner is a bit cool, a little James Bond-esque addition to a gadget.) He's called me a Luddite, but that sort of catch-all is far too broad for the situation. If I were a Luddite, this wouldn't be an issue at all because I wouldn't be anywhere near the computer.

The situation hasn't really been resolved. If anything, I've given Peter a new button to press when he wants to see me fly off into high dudgeon, waving my arms and lecturing about the dangers of giving up privacy and your identity to the all-knowing, all-seeing Satan of Technology.

5 Comments:

At 12 May 2008 at 08:34, Blogger Babaloo said...

Felix' work laptop has one of those thingies, too.
Until very recently I had refused to go to the US because you have to leave your fingerprints and I don't see why anyone should have so much information about you - and you don't know who has access to it, what they do with it, how it's stored etc. I have to admit, though, that when I got the chance to go I did take it and I did give my prints. But I am still extremely unhappy about passports containing biometric data - don't think I want one, ever! But, what if that's the only option we have? And you will need a passport to travel. Will I just stay at home and not travel anymore? I don't know.
I expect to see a lot of interesting comments on your post today... :-)

 
At 12 May 2008 at 14:44, Blogger laurie said...

clearly, you need your own laptop.

 
At 12 May 2008 at 15:02, Blogger Noortje said...

I don't have my mind clear on this yet. I think as time goes by, we are willing to cross more and more lines and give out more and more information about ourselves. We aren't anonymous anymore anyway. There is so much abuse that could be done already if someone wanted to. My fingerprint is in the American system and now the Dutch system wants to do an iris scan. I don't know if I care enough to get upset.

 
At 12 May 2008 at 18:49, Blogger -Ann said...

Babaloo - Yeah, it's all about the tradeoff, isn't it. I don't have to get fingerprinted to go into the US and I'm quite leery of biometric passports. If it ever comes to that, it'll be a tough decision.

Laurie - This is the sad thing. I have my own writing laptop. We have a kitchen laptop. And then there's Peter's fingerprint laptop. So the laptop supply is not the issue. :)

Noortje - The funny thing is that when you live in a rural area, you realise pretty quickly there's no such thing as being anonymous. But it's okay because the entire village doesn't have my fingerprints.

 
At 13 May 2008 at 02:10, Blogger Sandy said...

Luddites of the world, unite! Biometrics scare me, too.

 

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