Saturday, September 09, 2006

Civil Parameters - The Decision

Part II
Well, I made my decision and it wasn't easy.

My last post entitled Civil Parameters describes a situation I found myself in this past week. I was confronted with, what I felt was an odd choice. I could either submit to having my hand photographed and measured for a "hand print" and have a job, or I could see myself to the door and find another place to work.

I started the road to my final decision by asking a few of the people who's opinions matter to me most. Ye Old Matey, my mother, my daughter, a family friend and finally, I wrote a blog entry opening this query up to wider circle of friends and blog pals. My mother and her friend were of the opinion that "it's just a part of modern technology." Both of them are in their 50's and although they can use PC's, they both come to me for computer and tech help. My daughter's response was, "Like in the movies? Way cool!" I gave her a mini-lecture on civil liberties and she thought for a moment. "Well, it's not like they keep your information forever." When I informed that they did, she advised against it. Anyone I asked in the 24- 40 age group immediately recoiled. It was too bad, they said, but you should find another job, seemed to be the group consensus.

The responses from my friends and family noted, I did what I do best. I started researching the internet for more information.

I started out with a Google search for "hand scan." I found this website for Peninsula Time Clock, Inc. It shows a model of the machine that looks closest to what I was asked to use.
From the website:
This scalable hand geometry reader is the future. Eliminate the headache of badges and add the security of biometrics with our HP. Employees simply enter an ID number then place their hand on the reader, once verified the system handles the rest.

This reader virtually eliminates "Buddy Punching" and "Employee Time Theft" Never worry about your employees losing their ID Cards again!
I can see why employers would want to jump on the bandwagon. But why would every day people accept this. It was this article, presented in Q&A format that really creeped me out. The main focus of the article seemed to be how best to convince reasonably skeptical human beings to accept this technology with as few questions as possible.
[Biometric scanning] must be instantaneous, undiscriminating, and non-intrusive.
In other words, as long it's fast, doesn't hurt anyone physically, and encompasses everyone regardless of race, color or creed, then humans will have no problem with it. I find the fact that humans are seen as so easy to please, and the fact that it may just be true, frightening. However the article did end on this cheery note:
[R]egardless of your personal views on this subject, biometrics is due to become a large and integral part of our lives. It will take years for widespread use (look how long DVDs have taken) but will eventually become commonplace.
I couldn't help but notice that this article and others like it take great pains to detail how biometrics can be used for your convenience or protection but gloss over privacy and civil liberties issues as unimportant. The tone tries to assure you that"your government and corporations know best" and makes sure to remind us that it's a certainty, coming to a town near you. I found several articles that take this same tone, however this was the first I found to go from glorifying biometric identification to stating an outright lie:
Critics, even the ACLU, are not opposed to using biometrics for identification purposes providing that the information and technology remains strictly controlled and regulated.
I repeat, this is false. The ACLU has spoken out vehemently against the use of biometrics to the point of tesifying before Congress and consistently opposing various biometrics applications. There have also been various other protests by civil liberties groups across the globe against the use of biometrics and other human tracking devices such as RFID. RFID tags are usually used in stores to track and prevent theft of products. Recently thought, it's been proposed that they should be used to track products from their creation to how they are used inside your home.

After the first few articles it was obvious which same two groups that want to use these measures the most: governments and corporations. They are bound and determined to have complete control over not only your information but you, personally. They want to know everyhing. Who you are and where you are every moment of your life. What you buy, what you eat, and how often; how much you make, who your friends are, what you read and where you work, travel and live. Your facial dimensions and retinal scans; your fingerprints and hand dimensions; your gait, foot dimensions and footprint; even your DNA.

The United States is mandated by the controversial Patriot Act to "develop a technological standard for biometric identification." How sad they must be that at least 100 other countries have already implemented biometric data into a national identity card. Despite national protest, Australia has mandated that everyone have the biometrics card by 2010.

The articles I read that were pro-biometrics also made it a point to assure me that although the occasional slip may occur it was certain whoever wanted my data would do the utmost to make sure it was safe. The idea is to make identity theft a thing of the past. However they fail to mention that lots of information in huge databases only make cases of identity theft easier to commit. Not to mention, once security is breached, the hackers haul is much grander than if they had stolen a purse or wallet. Instead of one or two people being affected, thousands or even millions must now take steps to re-secure themselves.

There have been so many data loss scandals that Robert Ellis Smith, a writer for, suggests 2005 should be dubbed "The Year of the Stolen Laptop." Unfortunately 2006 doesn't show any sign of being much better. The long list of data loss scandals in his article only scratches the surface., a site dedicated to documenting computer security issues has an entire section devoted to data loss issues. Privacy Rights Clearing maintains a chronological list of data loss scandals from ChoicePoint to the Veterans Administration and a few less publicized incidents in between and beyond. The lists on both sites site have some very big names indeed. On every list or in every article linked, you are sure to find companies that you have heard of and do business with that have had massive leaks of confidential data.

The saddest part about all this is Congress merely quibbled over, but never got around to passing a bill that would have made it mandatory for corporations to let you know that your information has been compromised and to see what information they have collected. Furthermore, there are no real penalties or compensation a company must provide to you if your data is mishandled. Maybe if companies had to pay out, say, $1,000 per person per incident and $5,000 plus related costs if the information is actually used fraudently, companies (and the government) might start spending their money on securing their data.

I suppose it's much easier to administer innacurate and intrusive personality tests to potential than it is to check references. It must also be easier to enforce draconian and demeaning measures on existing employees than it is to provide true security against data loss. I say easier but since it's all a matter of costs you would think it must be cheaper to treat people like objects. However it's been proven again and again that our government and employers are shelling out big dollars for the illusion of security while exacting more and more control over our daily lives. The fact that securing our data isn't really a factor, especially when it's so easily bought and sold legally, albeit without our permission, is quite telling in regards to where the true priorities for these entitites lie.

No entity deserves that much control or knowledge over any living person. Corporations, despite their legal status as such (which should be revoked mind you) are not people.

Lastly, before I made my final decision, I thought of the words of Ben Franklin:
Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
And so, with all this in mind, I made up my mind not to go back. I made my 8:00 a.m. call and made my apologies. They agreed to try to reassign me on Monday.

I don't have a job but they don't have my handscan. I need a job, but they don't need to know that much about me. I can always get a job, but I would never have been able to get that piece of myself back.

Meanwhile, I not only have the prospect of another temp job on Monday, but I also have an interview on Wednesday for a "permanent" job.

Wish me luck.

(This post has been edited for typing errors and to add pertinent links. The overall content has not been changed. Deborah 09/10/2006)


  1. Congratulations on the new job prospect.

    How creepy this all was. I've never worked in the corporate world, but the ease with which so many companies can disregard the rights of their many workers is truly disconcerting.

    Good for you.

  2. That just feels way too Big Brother-ish to me.

  3. I've never heard of a workplace using a system like that. I think that Disney might do something like that for the entrance gate, but I'm not sure. I just remember sticking two fingers into the machine when we entered. It was rather odd.

    But yeah... I can see where the idea can be a good one. But I'm not sure I'd implement it.

    I suppose it depends on the workplace, though. At my last job, I was one of the few people who actually had to fill out a time sheet. I think that's why it was still all paper.



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