First published by Linux User & Developer.
I like my fingers. They are long and slender, and move nimbly over the keyboard as I type. OK, so I pick at my hangnails a little, but generally they do everything that a set of digits should, with grace and elegance.
And, although I blush to admit it, my fingers seem to be terribly popular with other people too. Every time I go to America the kind people at immigration take little photographs of both my index fingers. I’m sure they only do it because they’re happy to see me and they want a memento of the moment I enter the country.
I’ve heard a rumour that that nice man Mr Blair is similarly in love. Apparently, he thinks that my fingers are so pretty that he just has to have little pictures of all ten fingertips. I’d better get my nails done so that they look good – I wouldn’t want to let him down.
That’s not the end of it, you know. Increasingly I’m getting flattering comments about my eyes. Please do forgive me if I sound vain, but with their distinctive blue colour and those little brown flecks, they do make me stand out from the crowd. Mr Blair wants to take pictures of those too, because they’re unusually lovely. Whilst he’s at it, apparently he’s going to measure my face as well. Something about it having ‘divine proportions’, although I find that a little hard to swallow. Frankly, my forehead is a little high and my ears a little big, but you do the best with what you’ve got.
I’m sure that our nice government is going to be very, very careful with my … oh, what’s it called? … my biometric data. That’s it. I’m sure they are going to keep it very safe, and look after it as if it were their own, because I wouldn’t like just anyone staring into my eyes or doodling the swirls of my fingerprints. That would be creepy.
Oh, but what do I know? I’m just a silly blonde. It must all be OK, because lots of people are giving up their biometric data to all sorts of companies. If you want to hire a car at Stansted Airport you now have to give the car hire firm your fingerprints – if you are naughty and run off with it, they give your fingerprints to the police who come and catch you. Apparently it makes more sense to take everyone’s fingerprints rather than, say, put a GPS tracking device in each car so that police can find it if it goes astray.
Even shops are using fingerprints instead of credit cards so that they can’t be diddled by criminals using stolen credit cards. And we all know there’s nothing trivial about shopping. I don’t want other people buying shoes with my money!
Schools are using them to control their pupils too. Well, you know how horrid children are, stealing each other’s pocket money or forgetting to return library books which, in this day and age, eats a big hole in tiny school budgets. Not only will expensive fingerprinting systems save schools from losing money on lost books, they’ll also teach children that their fingerprints should be used only for really important things, like getting your school dinner or accessing a library.
I’ve even heard of one boarding school where so many pupils abscond that they need to use fingerprints instead of calling a register. I never did like that register thing anyway. I mean, have you seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?
Maybe I’m getting myself all worked up into a froth over nothing. Fingerprints are unique and no one else in the world has fingerprints like mine. Well, apart from the people who have very similar fingerprints which, when reduced to a list of distinctive points, might be mistaken for mine by a computer. But credit card companies deal with billions of pounds’ worth of transactions all the time, and we trust that to computers, so why shouldn’t we trust our most precious biometric data to computers too? That nice Mr Blair says we should.
I’m a little confused about the credit card argument, though. I regularly get sneaky emails trying to con me out of my credit card details, but as I understand it, the banks budget for a certain amount of theft each year. They are prepared to accept that some fraud will occur. Can we really afford to accept any biometric fraud at all?
If someone steals my money, my bank gives me a refund. If they steal my PIN number, I get a new one. If someone steals my biometric data, who will give me my refund? Who will give me my new fingerprints?