Friday, January 20, 2006

Less waiting, fingerprint check coming to your bank - Yahoo! News

The hook to get us to give up privacy is through dangling convenience in front of us. The common wisdom is it's easier to get someone to do something via bribery than intimidation. It's the old carrot-or-stick approach.

Less waiting, fingerprint check coming to your bank (Jan 19, 2006, Reuters via Yahoo!News!) and via

The plan is to have RFID chips in some kind of identity card associated with the bank. e.g. embedded in your ATM card. The bank will have RFID readers in the doorway into the bank, and they'll be able to instantly identify which of the people entering the building have accounts with the bank, instantly identify who they are, etc. This will be done simply by reading the RFID chip in the ATM card, running a check in the computers, etc.

The movie Minority Report gives an interesting approximation of how it will work. Except it won't involve retinal scans. Well, not initially. If you remember from the movie, there are several scenes where people are entering a store or other public place, and everybody stops for a moment, looks up, has their eyes scanned, and then a computerized welcoming voice says something like "So nice to see you again Harry" and they enter the store to go about their business.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a technology being developed by retailers that should migrate to banks. Customers would be automatically identified by the RFID-encrypted card in their wallet as they pass through the door, prompting a personalised welcome to flash up on a computer screen.

By the time the customer reaches the counter all his or her details are on the screen of the teller, who can discuss specific requirements without asking a lot of redundant questions.

"The bank wants to be able to identify the customer the minute they walk in and understand why they are there," said Mike Redding, head of development for Accenture Technology Labs.

"The most innovative banks will then combine the data they already have and the new information they get and simplify it and make it usable."

RFID is also likely to feature in bank cards, key rings or mobile phones as a payment option. The process is already under way in many countries and oil major Exxon Mobil has issued 6 million SpeedPasses to allow users to pay for gasoline easily at the pump, Redding said.

This will be interesting to see how it plays out.

A couple years ago certain retailers began to put RFID chips in clothing etc. That caused a huge uproar, and so the chips were taken back out. But that hasn't stopped the retailers and others from moving forward with RFID plans. They're just taking this as requiring some finesse to get the public to accept the chips.

For example my employee badge with Sun has an RFID chip in it. The badge gets waved over a reader, and it proactively checks with a computer who I am etc. It's a very short range RFID reader (about 2 inches) but RFID chips can be read at long distances given enough power.

Here's a thought which may be scary. Suppose government issued ID cards (driver licenses, etc) had an RFID chip in them, and they were to install RFID readers in sidewalks, in streetlight poles, etc. If the RFID reader had enough range to read the chip as you drive by, you could be tracked "everywhere". Certainly it would be easy to track pedestrians as they walk around on sidewalks with embedded readers.

There's a whole literature of books and movies about Big Brother (e.g. 1984: book, DVD, Audio CD; Brave New World; Fahrenheit 451) ... these books, and their kin, and the long term popularity of them indicates a serious concern among the people about overly intrusive governments. We value our freedom.

Is this the future we want?

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