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Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel

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Computerized Biometrics

Despite their apparent accuracy, neither fingerprints nor DNA samples are suitable for identifying individuals on a day-to-day basis. Fingerprints may be a lost cause: after more than 100 years, proponents have still been unable to shake the stain of criminality from their use. DNA identification is unworkable because the biological reactions on which DNA testing is based require minutes or hours, rather than seconds, to take place. Fortunately, for the past 100 years, the world has relied on another kind of biometric that can be nearly as good as a fingerprint or a DNA sample. That biometric is the photograph.

The most common form of identification today is a photograph fixed to an official document. Worldwide, the "universal currency" for personal identification is the passport. Most European countries supplement passports with identity cards. In the United States, the photo driver's license is the most common form of identification for both private industry and government.

The reliability of a driver's license depends on two factors. First, the state must be sure that the driver's license is being issued to the correct person. Second, the driver's license itself needs to be reasonably tamperproof, so it can't be changed once it is issued. (A driver's license that can be easily modified is an invitation to crime, since the license can be stolen, altered, and then used for fraudulent purposes.) States have increasingly, and somewhat successfully, turned to ...

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