Friday, November 13, 2015

The principle errors with an article that I read earlier this week

I have to read a lot of security industry material to keep track of trends. When I encountered one article, I made a point to read it because it touched upon two important topics - biometrics and privacy.

But as I got into the article, I ran across things that began to bug me. I myself am not perfect - after all, I am the "qualtiy" guy - but when enough of these little things build up, you become less interested in the good portions of the article.

The first thing wasn't really an error, but it was something that stuck in my mind. The beginning of the article discussed Alphonse Bertillon - his use of mugshots, his comparisons of fingerprint ridge characteristics...oh, and his use of measurements of the head to create "the science of Anthropometry." However, the author neglected to mention the case of William West and Will West. While Robert D. Olsen of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation notes that the significance of the story may have been exaggerated, the fact remains that West's and West's Bertillon measurements were similar enough to cast doubt that such measurements could uniquely identify an individual.

Second, I ran across this:

Since then, these two biometric markers have been the principle methods used to identify an individual.

Misuse of "principle" and "principal" is all too common - after all, there are a number of "principle engineers" running around. However, in this case the author is claiming that anyone who identifies an individual with an identity card, or even with iris recognition, is unprincipled. (The two biometrics that were being discussed were fingerprint and facial identification.)

At this point, I figured that I was being overly picky, until the author made this statement:

There is a deeply ingrained instinct in the British character that identity is none of your damned business - it’s their personal, private, closely guarded property. The issue is not to prove it, but to use it to identify myself. That’s a subtle but significant distinction.

Perhaps it’s because, as a Brit, legally you wouldn't be a citizen with rights but a subject with liberties. Not counting the Magna Carta incident, we’ve never had a revolution, so we have no constitution or bill of rights.

Now I'm an American, and Americans are woefully ignorant of things that are not American, but even I have heard of a couple of revolutions in Britain. While Cromwell's interlude was relatively temporary, the Glorious Revolution was more substantive, even producing...a Bill of Rights.

So can I trust this final statement that the article made? I'm not sure.

And so, as the science and the arts eye each other warily like two candidates for an arranged marriage, it becomes clear just how complex and all-pervading this topic will become, and how the idea of the individual - what it is and what it means to be one, will be every bit as important as the technologies used to identify them and the channels built to connect them together.

Perhaps that statement reveals the problem. It speaks of science and the arts, but does not speak of history. Is history a science, or is it an art? Or is it inconsequential?
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