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The future of biometrics in business

© August 2009 Anthony Lawrence

I was looking at web stats earlier this week and was surprised to see that this Google Earth Street View article from three years ago is still pulling thousands of page views per month. I'm not sure why - it probably hits Google page one for several related searches, but I really can't imagine why: only three external sites link to it and while my opinions might be a bit controversial, its continuing popularity honestly makes no particular sense.

That aside, it's plain that privacy will soon be entering the realm of thought and intention. We're already testing or using software at airports that attempts to identify bad intent from biometrics and behavior. How long will it be before your local Quickie-Mart scans you as you walk from your car and locks the door or at least alerts personnel that you might not be coming for a lottery ticket and a cup of coffee?

Speaking of that, have you noticed that the pictures of the perps in convenient store robberies are often clearer than those from banks? Why is that? You'd think banks could afford better video capture, wouldn't you?

Arousing a computer's suspicion could cause more video cameras to turn toward you. In a high-tech future, you might be made to standout on a video screen at the tellers or clerks stations. Very sophisticated systems might even alert local police so that they could possibly head toward the scene "just in case".

I was thinking of all that when we visited a museum last week. Employees walked the corridors constantly, admonishing people to step back from certain exhibits and of course being watchful for theft. Their jobs must be boring to the extreme, but still fraught with the possibility of danger. A watchful computer could have assured them that my intentions didn't include damaging anything or slipping anything else into my pocket. They still would have had to speak to my wife because she tends to get her finger uncomfortably close to canvas when pointing out some small detail, but at least they would have known that she isn't an art thief either.

Combining computers and cameras is still in its infancy, but these days are coming. The cop who stops you for speeding might get feedback in his ear telling him how wary he ought to be - are you just a good citizen momentarily inattentive or are you up to no good? Biometrics analysis could make cops jobs safer too.

I'm sure it will affect all sorts of business. Applying for a loan? Your posture and facial expressions could add valuable data to your credit report. Applying for a job? Same thing, and if you get that job, don't expect the scanning to end there: from the parking lot to your desk, some computer will be thinking about what your body language might mean.

Yeah, I know: very Orwellian. It's going to come just the same.

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Tue Aug 4 18:57:59 2009: 6722   BrettLegree

I figure it will go this way as well - my hope is that we (the people) will be brave enough to do something about it.

Professor Steve Mann from University of Toronto has written about "inverse surveillance" or "sousveillance" as a way of fighting pervasive surveillance.

If everyone is recording everything, then it isn't "us against the cameras", it is "our cameras against their cameras" - and since we have so many more cameras, we can beat Big Brother at his own game.

I suppose this is already happening with cell phone cameras and YouTube and so forth, the amateur videos of police brutality and so forth.

I would also imagine it might lead to people going out in public wearing disguises.

Sure, the Quickie-Mart might not let you in if you don't show your face, but if some enterprising mom & pop grocery store advertises "no biometric cameras", that Quickie-Mart may find itself out of business very quickly!

The big joke in all of this is that it will not prevent another 9/11, or something like that. There will still be fraud, and robbery, and so on. Like the old saying, "when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns."

When privacy is outlawed, only outlaws will have privacy. Governments and law enforcement and megacorps will abuse law abiding citizens, and the bad guys will still do bad things.

Looking forward to it!!!

(Maybe I'll move to a small cabin in Northern Ontario and live off the grid, learn how to grow potatoes and catch fish.)

Tue Aug 4 19:00:52 2009: 6723   TonyLawrence

I think someone advertising "No cameras" and not stopping costumed customers would quickly become a nightly target for thieves.

Tue Aug 4 22:06:46 2009: 6724   BrettLegree

Of course, I can't see anyone actually doing what I suggested - but the important difference would be to say "No Biometrics".

Because as you know, there are already many businesses that have cameras, and locking doors controlled by the attendants, and attendants who carry firearms - and they *still* are robbed.

The biometrics would just punish the innocent, as you could imagine. Those with criminal intent would just continue to up the ante, as they always have - for instance, if Brett the Crack Addict wanted to rob Biometric Convenience R Us, he'd just steal a car and drive it through the front window, then come out with guns a blazing.

We've seen the same thing with software and movies - increased attempts at preventing copyright infringement just makes it more difficult to actually use a product that was legally purchased. I have more than once downloaded a copy of something that I bought because it worked better than the real thing (I'm thinking Doom 3 right now).

Wed Aug 5 16:46:18 2009: 6726   RickBrandfass

It's old but still relevant: (link) (Turn your sound on.)

Thu Aug 6 09:13:17 2009: 6727   NickBarron

Sadly I can see our future not being a happy one with this much technology in use.


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