Put Your Fingerprint on the Dotted Line

Lorna, the sharp-tongued blogger behind
Lornamatic.com, was all set to buy a BMW when
an ink pad got in her way. She visited a dealership?with her
husband in Torrance, California,?hoping to leave?with a new X3.
They found?the right?car, filled out the paperwork, provided copies
of their marriage license, credit reports, and driver’s licenses.
The couple were about to finalize the deal when the salesperson
requested a thumbprint. ‘Taken completely by surprise by all this,
my husband and I asked many questions,’ she recalls. ‘We were told
that the data would remain on file at the dealership for seven
years. That this policy is in place to protect us.’ Lorna and her
husband refused to ink up and left empty-handed. She did some
research when she got home and found that the dealership was
enacting a failed version of Senate Bill 504, an early incarnation
of which tried to give auto sellers the right to request the
thumbprint of a buyer. ‘I resent the implication that I am somehow
a less worthy customer,’ Lorna writes, ‘a potential criminal due to
my refusal to provide my fingerprints to a private, nongovernmental
entity.’

Lorna is not alone. Fingerprinting — once considered the
ultimate technology for identifying and tracking criminals — is
now being used by the commercial world to keep tabs on customers.
Across the country, grocery stores, banks, and car dealerships are
asking patrons to smudge on the ink in an effort to combat fraud
and theft. The purported upside is quicker transactions and
heightened security; the downsides are less privacy and feeling
like you’re minutes from a mug shot.

Walt Disney World has been using fingerprints to track theme
park visitors since January of 2005, according to the
Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).
Guests over the age of ten are asked to make a ‘peace sign’ and
scan their index and middle fingers. According to EPIC, Disney’s
policy is vague, with little explanation on how long the
information will be kept and what additional purposes it might
serve. On its website, EPIC details its reservations about Disney’s
requirement: ‘The collection of fingerprint information is
associated with police arrest, employment with financial
institutions, or controlling access to highly secure facilities.
Broadening the practice to include visitors to theme parks is a new
and unnecessary use especially if it involves children.’

Unlike theme parks, banks are well practiced in the art of
identification; they’re also jumping on the fingerprint bandwagon.
The Consumerist reports that
Bank of America and
JP Morgan Chase currently require a
thumbprint from any nonmember attempting to cash a check. When a
manager at Chase was confronted about the issue he replied that
the regulation was ‘due to the Patriot Act.’ Not so, the
Consumerist‘s Carey Greenberg-Berger writes, citing the
Uniform Commercial Code, a legal guideline for financial
transactions that states that two forms of identification — not
necessarily fingerprints — would be sufficient.

Katherine Noyes writes for
TechNewsWorld that banks, grocery stores,
and theme parks are using fingerprint technology because it
decreases the chances of identity theft and makes shopping quicker.
But in Noyes’ article, Ant Allan, research vice president for
technology consultants Garter Group, disagrees. ‘Does it really
enhance the customer experience enough to make them bother with
it?’ Allan asks. ‘Most folks are probably thinking, ‘I’m perfectly
happy doing it the way I already do.”

Go there >>
Brave New Car Dealer: Fingerprints Required to Buy
a Car?

Go there, too >>
Theme Parks and Your Privacy

And there >>
Chase Refuses To Cash Check Without
Thumbprint

And there >>
Biometrics: It’s All About You

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