Thursday, June 26, 2014

Biometrics and commerce

As an employee of a biometric software provider [DISCLOSURE: I AM AN EMPLOYEE OF A BIOMETRIC SOFTWARE PROVIDER], I'm used to seeing a whole bunch of people speak about biometrics. Law enforcement. Immigration experts. Privacy experts. Lawyers. More lawyers. But as I was perusing one of my information sources, I ran across a piece by Rich Cooper, the Vice President of Research & Emerging Issues for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Hmm...the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. I haven't run across them weighing in on these issues.

But it makes sense. While a lot of the attention within my country focuses on government use of biometrics, other parts of the world are looking at biometrics from a business perspective.

Japanese companies Hitachi and Fujitsu have separately developed vein-scanning systems that are already being used by major banks around the world, such as in Brazil, Poland and Turkey....

South Africa has used fingerprint scanning at ATM machines since 1996. Brazil uses similar biometric technology at more than 55,000 ATMs....

While there are similar moves here, including incorporation of biometrics into mobile phones and Google's efforts to profit from its Neven Vision acquisition, things aren't moving as rapidly in the U.S. as they are in other countries. Cooper attributes this to a "widespread cultural concern" in the United States - the same thing not only makes us resist biometrics, but also makes us resist using Social Security Numbers as identification numbers, converting drivers' licenses to robust identification devices [DISCLOSURE: A SISTER COMPANY TO MY EMPLOYER PROVIDES DRIVERS' LICENSES], and telling the government every time that we buy a gun.

It appears that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is concerned that the U.S. is getting (if I may borrow another U.S. cultural term) left behind. The think piece by Cooper was entitled "Unlocking the Promise of Biometrics," and concludes as follows:

While we are not yet at a point where biometrics are a fool-proof method of authentication, the potential these technologies present for innovation and advancement are huge. Just one more example of how data and technology are changing the world for the better.

And we, with our guns and our insecure drivers' licenses and our chipless credit cards, are yielding ground to the Japanese and the others. Maybe.

Or, as the libertarians and the moralists may contend, the rest of the world is heading off a cliff while The Greatest Nation In The History Of Civilization is remaining as a shining city on a hill.

Who's right?
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