For some reason, people treat having their fingerprints taken (and stored) as a huge privacy issue. Specifically, I see this attitude in two kinds of places: “I’m not visiting/have issues visiting the USA because they take your fingerprints on entry”, and in local discussions regarding the legislation for a national biometrics database. I would like to take a look at some of the myths and paranoia regarding this but first two data points about me which should show where I am coming from:
- I have never been involved in any police investigation, and so have never had my fingerprints taken in a police station.
- The Israeli government has my fingerprints on file. I gave them voluntarily to be able to use the fast-automated-path for Israeli border control. I estimate that with all my traveling, it has probably saved me several hours by now.
- The US government has my fingerprints on file. As opposed to the Israeli government, which only has my right hand on file, the US government has both because of the recently updated procedure wherein they take all ten fingerprints.
Now, these are the places I know have my fingerprints on file. There could be numerous government and non-government agencies which have taken my fingerprints. This is due to an often ignored fact regarding fingerprints: the common human leaves fingerprints on pretty much everything we touches. We’re a disgusting species, I guess?
Any agency which wanted my fingerprints and did not want to tell me probably could have had them. They could not use them to identify as me, because border patrol agents actually look at me, and then my passport. Anyone who could have forged a passport well enough to fool them, can probably, I don’t know, offer me a drink, or something, and get my fingerprints that way? I go to coffee shops and restaurants quite a bit, so it should not be difficult.
Given that anyone who really wants my ‘prints can freakin’ have them, I don’t see the point of avoiding giving them in any place which is willing to give me privileges for them (visiting the US is not something the US has to allow, and while entering Israel is something Israel has to allow, giving me a fast path is certainly a privilege). I think the biometric legislation is a huge money and time waste, but there are worst time wasters I’d prefer my elected officials fight. I think the USA visitation procedure is expensive and ineffective, but that’s not a moral objection — it’s a utilitarian one, and I would be happy if Obama forced the INS and TSA to make US travel more fun. OTOH, Obama has bigger issues on his plate too, so them’s the breaks.
Please stop whining that your privacy is violated when your fingerprints are taken. That’s the old school privacy, the one which does not exist anymore. Security cameras will photograph you, and the pictures will remain in the database forever. Anything you do in a public place is public. Yes, that includes touching stuff and leaving your sweat on it.