What privacy is worth

Summary:Biometric technology makes many people uncomfortable, but the case in favor can be compelling for both scanner and scanned--customers get improved service while businesses get reduced operating costs and rates of fraud.

What privacy is worth
Accenture Technology Labs recently supplied biometric technology skills and assets (in the form of its Travel Security Services solution) to the pilot deployment at Heathrow of miSense, a system designed to increase passenger flow, improve security, and reduce costs. Participants supply a facial image, two iris images, and 10 fingerprints. In exchange, they can accelerate certain human checks in the arrival/departure process. The pilot began in October 2006 and ran successfully through January 2007.

So What?

Europe has a reputation for being especially privacy conscious, so it's a surprise to learn that 90 percent of UK air travelers are in favor of the sort of biometric security that comprises miSense--as long as it makes check-in quicker and safer. I've always believed that privacy is absolutely sacred--and that it will be tossed aside like a piece of wet tissue in exchange for small increases in convenience. For better or worse, this seems to be true. To the dismay of some privacy advocates, it looks as if biometrics are perfectly acceptable to significant parts of the public--provided they're offered in the right context (such as the context of two-hour lines).

Biometric technology makes many people uncomfortable for reasons they often have trouble articulating, but the case in favor can be compelling for both scanner and scanned--customers get (sometimes dramatically) improved service while businesses get reduced operating costs and rates of fraud.

One powerful adoption driver: jealousy. If the queue next to yours is moving at warp speed past your poor stationary self, the ethical dilemma over biometrics that you've been struggling with might simply evaporate--giving up control of your face, irises and fingers might seem like a small price to pay for expedited service. Or at least, it would to me. See you on the fast track?

(Airport image by Axel hecht, CC 2.0)

Topics: Legal

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