Thursday, November 3, 2011

India is Fingerprinting 1.2 Billion People, Should We?

Indians have to deal with corruption and poverty in ways that blow past any dark corners of America's past. Now, using high-tech biometric IDs, India's government hopes to revolutionize the way its citizens interact with their government.

I love data, I like the idea of everyone accounted for in the national register. That's not to say I don't appreciate and respect privacy, but if everyone's going to a have a number next to their name, then it might as well be an incorruptable identity that can be easily used to improve everyday services.

It remains to be seen where such technology is going and how far along we'll let it take us. Already, in Afghanistan, American soldiers maintain an exhaustive biometric database of all those who use government services. The system helps to limit corruption and swiftly identify and quarrantine militants.

Americans don't yet live in Minority Report, where eye scans greet shoppers at the Gap and alert authorities when a rogue individual is sighted. That day does approach, in countless small ways.

The UK keeps tabs on its citizens with over 4.2 million security cameras in public and private hands. Facial recognition software can find a face in the crowd and use thermal imaging to determine whether a rush of blood indicates a lie, aggression, or something less sinister.

The technology exists to know who's who and what's up. The question is to what extent this knowledge will be deployed and how well it will serve the public's interest once everyone's signed up and scanned in.

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