Topic 3: Guard Your Biometric Data

I saw this article on the front page today:

So, let's talk about biometrics.

Keys to the Castle

Fingerprint sensors on smartphones have become a popular method of unlocking devices, over the past few years. It was a bad idea when it was introduced, and it is an even worse idea today.

The 5th Amendment protects you from incriminating yourself – you have the right to remain silent. But this does NOT extend to fingerprints, which are taken upon arrest. If you use fingerprint unlock, then they have everything they need to access your device. They can just take the fingerprint you gave them, print it out (various methods of doing this), and press it against your phone. Voila, unlocked.

Then we get to the news article, above. Unlocking your smartphone with a fingerprint was bad enough. Now they want you to use it to unlock your computer?! If you use these methods, your devices are COMPLETELY unprotected when it comes to the government.

The 5th Amendment can only protect you if you let it. Using a fingerprint unlock is like signing away your rights, in favor of convenience. And unfortunately, that is simply how security works. The trade-off is always convenience. It is up to each of us to decide what the maximum inconvenience is that we are willing to put up with, in order to maintain the desired security level.

YOU are the Product

As the old saying goes, free websites are not actually free – they are definitely getting something out of it. If they aren't making money because you are paying them directly, then they are making money by collecting information about you and then selling it to the highest bidder. And even if you are paying the website for providing service to you, they are STILL making extra money by selling your information to third parties! Because why leave money on the table, right?

The same concept basically applies to your biometric data. The fact is, the government has a vested interest in creating a huge biometric database of everyone in existence. They would absolutely LOVE it if they had a single database, which accurately listed every person on the planet, with all associated information. Attributes might include:

Primary Table (one-to-one): Full Name, SSN, Fingerprint, Iris Scan, DNA Sequence, Religion, Political Leaning, Birth Location, Birth Date, Citizenship

Related Tables (many-to-one): Aliases, Addresses, Phone Numbers, Email Addresses, Online Accounts, Relatives, Friends, Medical Records, Voting Records, Known Firearms, Police Record

This is just a rough picture off the top of my head, no need to debate a proper database schema, I'm sure you get the idea. Reading this list though, you suddenly realize something very scary – they have most of this already. If the government wanted to look up one of these data points on you, they can find it very easily. Most people already have a set of fingerprints in the system, too. Iris scans, not so much, that might actually be skipped in the whole idea of biometrics since you don't leave iris scans lying around at crime scenes.

Everything About You

DNA though, there's a fun one. DNA is CRITICAL in aiding modern forensic scientists. Your body is constantly shedding skin cells and hair (with follicles), and can be used to identify you and place you at locations. From a criminal standpoint alone, the government would LOVE to have a complete DNA database to identify suspects. Because getting an involuntary DNA sample from a suspect requires a court order. If you already have it on file though, then it's no longer necessary.

Building a comprehensive DNA database is a monumentally difficult task, however, and completing it in secret might be impossible. In order to do this, you would need to get EVERY hospital in on the deal. They would have to send a blood sample out for sequencing for every person when they are born. In the long term, this would eventually result in ~100% coverage on the database. For existing adults, you would need to set up capture points, such as any time you get a blood test, or donate blood. With the manpower required to implement this level of DNA capture, SOMEONE would quickly make it public knowledge, and it would raise a pretty big stink.

Just like the slow erosion of the Bill of Rights though, you can slowly build this type of DNA database over time, by slowly expanding the circle of targets for what seem to be "reasonable" motives, and waiting for the population to adjust to the "new normal". Currently, the reasonable and normal circle includes criminals. In all 50 states, if you are convicted of a felony, the police are allowed to collect a DNA sample. In 28 states, the police are allowed to collect a DNA sample if you are simple arrested for a felony, even if you are never convicted. In some states, such as Oregon, they can collect a DNA sample even for certain misdemeanor offenses. The Supreme Court so far seems to have upheld that collecting a suspect's DNA (for at least felonies) is not a violation of their 4th Amendment rights.

The Future

I am not saying that the current status-quo is good or bad. But I am saying that it is most definitely a slippery slope, and that the government will slowly be trying to expand the ring of targets, and that we as a society must stay active in the political process, in order to draw the line when they push too far.

The primary reason is that, unlike a fingerprint, DNA holds a LOT (understatement) about YOU. It can be used to determine if you are more likely to be an alcoholic, or a psychopath, or bipolar, or emotionally unstable, or more susceptible to influence, etc etc etc. Some of these things can be identified right now. Others of these things will inevitably be identified in the future. And some day, some very smart scientist is going to show a very strong correlation between certain DNA sequences and markers, and the likelihood that that individual will commit a crime. And if the government is sitting pretty on a giant DNA database of everyone in the country, then they are most definitely going to put it to use.

Eugenics makes an interesting side topic, since we're talking about DNA. Currently, the only thing that is holding us back from experimenting with human DNA is ethics laws. But let me tell you this now – with the current divisions and subdivisions in the world, Eugenics is inevitable. Without a world government to establish and ENFORCE basic human rights, there will always be a country that violates them. Imagine the advantage that a country can gain by tinkering with DNA. They could make super-scientists, super-soldiers, people that require less sleep, less food, are not susceptible to certain diseases, etc. Just because one country outlaws eugenics, doesn't mean that others will too. Over a short period of time (20-30 years), the country that decides to practice eugenics will inevitably gain a huge advantage over other countries. And once a country is discovered to have a Eugenics program, other countries are now forced to either shut it down (violating that nation's sovereignty, possibly through military means) or join the Eugenics race.

DNA and Eugenics is a very complicated field, of course, and essentially no one except a very few top scientists will understand the details of what is going on. Because of this, it is extremely easy for a government running this sort of program to introduce DNA changes that the public is not aware of. They could make people more docile, and less questioning. Pulling off a 1984 style "we've always been at war with Eurasia" could become much easier. Pulling off the Alphas and Betas and Gammas and Deltas of Brave New World might also become important, for maintaining a docile and blissfully ignorant work force.

Side note: Nationalism is a very dangerous idea for the increasingly globalized society. It breeds an "us vs them" mentality based on nothing except where a person is born, which they have no control over, which inherently promotes conflict. Yes, it is good to be proud of your country. But it is MORE important to focus on global cooperation and synergy and being constructive, instead of blowing shit up all the time.


Anyway. This is turning into a novel, so I'll just TLDR with this: your DNA (and fingerprints) can and will be used against you, and against society, by the powers that be.

Technology will inevitably march forward, and you cannot stop it. But you CAN shape society, even just a little, by LEARNING as much as you can about it and other similar topics, and promoting discussion with the people closest to you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: