Last summer I wrote about the British outfit called touch2id. They had developed a system that sounded pretty horrible when I first heard about it – a scheme to control underage drinking by using peoples’ fingerprints rather than getting them to present identity cards. I assumed it would be another of the hair-brained biometric schemes I had come across in the past – like this one, or this, or these.
But no. The approach was completely different. Not only was the system popular with its early adopters, but its developers had really thought through the privacy issues. There was no database of fingerprints, no record linking a fingerprint to a natural person. The system was truly one of “minimal disclosure” and privacy by design:
- To register, people presented their ID documents and, once verified, a template of their fingerprint was stored on a Touch2Id card that was immediately given to them. The fingerprint was NOT stored in a database.
- When people with the cards wanted to have a drink, they would wave their card over a machine similar to a credit card reader, and press their finger on the machine. If their finger matched the template on their card, the light came on indicating they were of drinking age and they could be served.
A single claim: “Able to drink“. Here we had well designed technology offering an experience that the people using it liked way better than the current “carding” process – and which was much more protective of their privacy. “Privacy by design” was delivering tangible benefits. Merchants didn’t have to worry about making mistakes. Young people didn’t have to worry about being discriminated against (or being embarassed) just because they “looked young” or got a haircut. No identifying information was being released to the merchants. No name, age or photo was stored on the cards. The movements of young people were not tracked. And so on.
Today touch2id published Testemonials – an impressive summary of their project consisting of reviews by individuals involved. It is clear that those who liked it loved it. It would be interesting to find out to what extent these rave reviews are typical of those who tried the system.
At any rate, it's instructive to compare the positive outcome of this pilot with all the biometric proposals that have crashed onto the shoals of privacy invasion.