Visitors to Walt Disney World, whether veterans or first-timers, have their fingerprints scanned as a security precaution upon entry. Some worried visitor’s faces indicate how fearful so many of us have become about our personal and private information.
This fear is not unsubstantiated, as we are bombarded with edicts and procedures to protect our identities. We have been conditioned to believe that the taking of our fingerprints is a violation of privacy, usually reserved for criminals.
Due to the availability of advanced biometrics and their decreasing cost, this solution is becoming much more viable and is making its way into some unexpected places. Fingerprinting is being used in some schools, where students have their fingerprints scanned to pay for lunch. In some businesses, employees clock in and out of work using the fingerprint in lieu of punching a time card or keying in a PIN, and the government uses multiple forms of biometrics to track employees.
From a management perspective—either as the user or provider—this type of technology needs to be explained in the most comprehensive and understandable manner possible. Don’t keep information close to your vest. The hurdle is not the technology itself—it is advanced, reliable and easy to use—rather it is fear and misconception.
While some security initiatives are best kept confidential, in order to work, biometrics should be explained to the average user to help alleviate fears associated with it. When you ask for and gather a relative stranger’s personal information, things need to be approached and handled very carefully.
Some people do not fully understand the purpose of fingerprinting at, for example, a school or theme park. Remember that the data points housed within the system cannot be translated into a true fingerprint. They are not that detailed. Law enforcement and FBI fingerprinting uses extremely intricate systems. Commercial versions are not the same.
These do not grab a full fingerprint. Instead, they take advanced digital photos of the fingerprint and tag a mathematical template to that image so every time the same finger is scanned, it compares the two for similarities. In fact, they do not grab enough information to be used as a concrete identifier. They act more as an excluder, looking at a few data points on a person’s finger and matching those to the base records to ensure the person is who they say they are.
Most venues where the technology has been incorporated have done so to make their operations safer and more secure. Most fingerprint-scanning solutions consist only of scanners and software that act as the keeper of the telemetry information. The information is not shared much beyond that. How is scanning your fingerprint to enter Disney World any different from entering your Social Security number online to apply for a credit card or using a thumbprint reader to access your laptop? When you subtract emotional reactions, the two really aren’t that different. They are both bits of personal data being housed in a computing environment.
Explaining the technology and how the information is only stored locally, not shared, can be a first step in helping alleviate fear and doubt. Being aware of the real fear that exists is key to helping make things better for everyone.
So, the next time you need to be fingerprinted, remember not all fingerprinting is alike. In terms of access and ID control, these sample scans will not identify even the most sought-after fugitive. It’s just not so advanced and integrated yet. In fact, Allan Goulbourne, applications engineer with Texas Instruments, said the same fears plague the RFID market.
“I wish we could do what people think we can do,” he said.
It seems all forms of tracking and identification technology instill some fear in the general public. Those of us using, promoting, installing and touting such systems need to take the role of educator. That is the only way people will start to realize just what these systems can and, more importantly, cannot do.
STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.