Does rise of biometrics mean a future without anonymity?
Steve Johnson - 09/17/2012
Long envisioned as an alternative to remembering scores of computer passwords or lugging around keys to cars, homes and businesses, technology that identifies people by their faces or other physical features finally is gaining traction in the Bay Area and elsewhere, to the dismay of privacy advocates.
Some consumer gadgets already are outfitted with scanners to verify the user’s face or fingerprint, and many office buildings control access via retina and voice-recognition systems. But that could be just the beginning. Corporations, government agencies and university researchers are exploring ways to identify people through everything from the shape of their ears, veins and DNA to their gait, heartbeat and body odor.
“There are multiple benefits to society in using this form of identification,” said Anil Jain, a Michigan State University computer science and engineering professor, adding the technologies could prove “transformative.”
But skeptics call many of these “biometric” concepts infeasible. And while the idea is to bolster security, civil libertarians believe the technology could have grave privacy implications. They fear it could plunge us toward a future where we’ve forfeited the right to remain anonymous and our most personal information is bandied about in massive databases by retailers, police or others — often without our knowledge.