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Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel

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Chapter 3. Absolute Identification

Confronted with database discrepancies, identity theft, illegal immigration, and unsolved crimes, many policymakers have put their faith in the technological promise of biometric identification. These technologies , their boosters say, will ultimately usher in a regime of absolute identification in which each individual can be precisely known by the unique characteristics of that person's body.

Absolute identification is a policy goal that is within our grasp. Indeed, a growing number of scientists, engineers, and politicians now see identification of human bodies not as a technical problem, but rather as a political one. If society has the will, they argue, we could uniquely register every person in the United States, Europe, Asia, and possibly the entire planet. We could then routinely identify individuals at banks, at school, at work, and on the road. Absolute identification could eliminate mismatched computer records, stolen identities, and the ambiguity that comes with the messiness of day-to-day life. By replacing anonymity with absolute identity, we would create a society in which each person could be absolutely granted the privileges that come with his or her station in life, and each person could be held uniquely and absolutely accountable for his or her own actions.

Absolute identification is a seductive idea. It's a pity that it is also fundamentally flawed. To understand why, you need to understand the technology and its shortcomings. ...

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