In China, biometric technology allows police to track down people within minutes, thanks to ubiquitous video surveillance and China’s social credit system. The latter is a national reputation system, developed by the Chinese government, that assesses the economic and social reputation of businesses and citizens. Critics of the scheme describe it as an Orwellian surveillance system that inspires conformity and fear. In the United States, retail chains are seeking to convince Americans to accept facial biometrics, which is a hallmark of China’s surveillance system, that have also piqued concern among civil libertarians.

Besides China, Russia, India, Japan and various Latin American countries are also making extensive use of such centralized biometric data. In the U.S., biometric data is collected from travellers, for example, at airport security checkpoints.

A recent article in Biometric Update offered interviews with the CEOs of four companies offering biometric services to businesses. FaceFirst CEO Peter Tripp said that businesses are looking at having their customers opt-in to the technology when their “privacy is not the cornerstone issue.” Manufacturers are already offering biometrics on a variety of platforms. For example, Ford’s Lincoln Motor Company began offering in 2017 complimentary TSA PreCheck biometric scanners in all their new vehicles, which would allow customers to be whisked through airport and stadium check-in points. 

Signalling the potential of its technology, FaceFirst produced a video that asks "What if you could stop retail crime, before it happens?" The video goes on to show that security personnel can act on seeing faces linked to rap sheets and then take action to stop potential criminals.

At ZDNet, a writer assured that a partnership of the Robbie.AI facial recognition company and the SureID biometric fingerprinting company “could create a national biometric database." SureID General Manager Ned Hayes told ZDNet that putting the two firms together provides the basis of a national database that could be used in everything from retail authenticaion and employment verification to driver-identification for keyless self-driving cars. Hayes said: “As technology emerges and companies adopt more sophisticated forms of security, it will be crucial for safety and security to authenticate the real identity of technicians and consumers."

SensibleVision and Goode Intelligence see potential in utilizing biometric customer loyalty programs that offer discounts as an incentive to use them. Facial recognition programs can be used for age verification in self-check-out systems, and to link customers to purchases they make and the businesses they frequent. Linking facial recognition technology with customer loyalty programs could create a national biometric database. 

Retailers are already installing facial recognition at some levels of their corporate structures, thus building familiarity with the technology among their employees and allow a gradual phasing-in of biometrics on the sales floor.

Defenders of civil liberties, such as the Cato Institute, have expressed concerns that the constitutional protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment (which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures) may be at risk. According to Clyde Wayne Crews Jr. of the Cato Institute:

“The challenge of the biometric future is to prevent mandatory national IDs, ensure Fourth Amendment protections with respect to public surveillance, and avoid the blurring of public and private databases. Private industry must generate its own information, for purposes limited by consumer choice and consumer rejection. Privacy, security, liberty, and even authentication technology itself will be all the better for it.”

Responding to efforts by the Republican-led Congress to institute the E-Verify system nationwide to identify work-eligible immigrants, Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute wrote that he fears that since the E-Verify system is flawed, Congress may push for programs to overcome those flaws with biometric databases. He wrote:

“The next obvious step for Congress would be to add additional biometrics like fingerprints which some of E-Verify’s biggest supporters already favor.  Just as the Social Security number grew from a personal identifier for retirement benefits to a financial identification tool to the primary government number used for legal employment, E-Verify’s uses will also grow over time.  Such a system could be used for all types of quick legal checks from purchasing firearms to buying cigarettes or renting an apartment. 

“Adding new biometric identification tools to E-Verify is worrying for civil liberties, privacy, and identity theft reasons but its expansion to non-immigration enforcement purposes should cause some reflection even among its most ardent opponents.”




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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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