Jan 192011
 January 19, 2011  Featured News, Surveillance

Ian Geldard sent me a link to an article on Technology Review about a fingerprint technology that has the potential to become yet another part of public surveillance. Here are some snippets from the article so you can understand the potential for misuse:

Now a company has developed a prototype of a device that can scan fingerprints from up to two meters away, an approach that could prove especially useful at security checkpoints in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

The device, called AIRprint, is being developed by Advanced Optical Systems (AOS). It detects fingerprints by shining polarized light onto a person’s hand and analyzing the reflection using two cameras configured to detect different polarizations.


The prototype device, which scans a print in 0.1 seconds and processes it in about four seconds, can handle only one finger at a time. Also, the scanned finger must remain at a fixed distance from the device. But by April, Burcham expects to have made significant improvements. By then, he says, the device should be able to scan five fingers at once even if a person is moving toward or away from the cameras, and the processing time ought to have dropped to less than a second.


The military has a growing interest in biometric sensors that operate at a distance. The U.S. Department of Defense awarded $1.5 million to Carnegie Mellon’s CyLab Biometrics Lab to support development of technology that performs iris detection at 13 meters.

Read the whole article on Technology Review.

As with most technology, this device clearly can be put to good use. But by now, I’ve come to look at technology and ask, “And how is this going to be misused, and with what consequences?”

So… if we have no reasonable expectation of privacy in public spaces, could these devices just record our fingerprints and match them against different databases or even add them to a database? Could law enforcement create a database on wanted criminals’ fingerprints and have these devices scan passersby to determine a match? Some might argue that that might not be a bad thing, but where is the line and our laws ready to deal with this type of possible use of surveillance technology in public spaces?

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