Some observations on the thumbprint debacle

After Lorna's story was on ABC, NBC, and some local newspapers, I was starting to think about the ways people talk about privacy and security.

Some of the approaches are...funny, and others are just human nature.

Someone important told me so: If someone important says so, you tend to believe them. They are clearly important and looking out for your interests. Alternately, the Orwellian form: "This is really far above me." This was actually said to us at the dealership, and not much other information was available.

Someone with good intentions told me so: If someone who's earnest about protecting your identity is trying to do so, then they must be doing the right thing.

The problem with these sorts of things is:
1. They are the same things that got us into Iraq.
2. The people with good intentions and gray hair are often not sophisticated about information technologies.

#2 is an important point. The problem is that someone with good intentions who runs a large police organization, or who owns a billion-dollar automobile dealer network, may not be a person who understands the idea that concentrated quantities of data represent a threat to personal privacy.

People who understand these things are those who think about these things professionally. Neither Lorna and I are those sorts of people, but we know and interact with them, and we've seen them be right (when we thought they were nuts) on numerous occasions.

Technologies and centralization of information are both two-edged swords, and it is often unclear to the casual observer why exactly good intentions do not lead to good outcomes.

I think we still feel that collecting all the personal information about "people who buy BMWs" (a generally quite creditworthy bunch), including biometric data and place of employment, in a stack of file cabinets remains a problem.

Then again, I bought an Audi, and they didn't fingerprint me.


  1. Saw the Boing Boing, but I didn't realize the MSM picked it up as well. Wow!

    What I find even more irritating than the dealer wanting to print you is that so many people just don't seem to think or care about such privacy issues--or the sort of culture resulting when no one bothers to object (what's next!?!?)

    Anyhow, thanks making a stink about it.

  2. When we bought our Acura TL in early '05, I gave them all the usual personal information with the exception of my social security number. I was paying cash, so they didn't need it (I thought). When it came down to it, they asked for the number. I asked why. They said I had a choice: wait until the check clears (could be a day) or allow them to check my credit. I chose to let them check my credit, but it still bugs me.