THANKS to gangster movies, cop shows and spy thrillers, people have come to think of fingerprints and other biometric means of identifying evildoers as being completely foolproof. In reality, they are not and never have been, and few engineers who design such screening tools have ever claimed them to be so. Yet the myth has persisted among the public at large and officialdom in particular. In the process, it has led—especially since the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001—to a great deal of public money being squandered and, worse, to the fostering of a sense of security that is largely misplaced.
Authentication of a person is usually based on one of three things: something the person knows, such as a password; something physical the person possesses, like an actual key or token; or something about the person’s appearance or behaviour. Biometric authentication relies on the third approach. Its advantage is that, unlike a password or a token, it can work without active input from the user. That makes it both convenient and efficient: there is nothing to carry, forget or lose.
The downside is that biometric screening can also work without the user’s co-operation or even knowledge. Covert identification may be a boon when screening for terrorists or criminals, but it raises serious concerns for innocent individuals. Biometric identification can even invite violence. A motorist in Germany had a finger chopped off by thieves seeking to steal his exotic car, which used a fingerprint reader instead of a conventional door lock...
(eyeballs can be gouged out too -fc)