Minority Report

by D.V. Bowden
07-13-03

The smallest minority on earth is the individual.
Those who deny individual rights cannot claim
to be defenders of minorities. -- Ayn Rand

The movie Minority Report presents an unsettling but believable vision of the shape of things to come in the realm of personal privacy--there will be none. In the movie, set about 50 years in the future, people are eye-scanned wherever they go. This method of checking identity is ubiquitous. Store computers identify customers as they walk in, greet them by name, and begin bombarding them with personalised advertising. Police monitor the identity of travelers on subways and passing through public spaces. You can't get a taxi, a meal, or go out in public without getting scanned numerous times. Needless to say, just as the current trends indicate, scanners in private stores will be hooked into the police system so the government can monitor everything. The public accepts this as the price of safety, since wanted criminals are located and arrested almost immediately by police.

Tom Cruise is attacked by eye-scanning electronic spiders in the movie Minority Report.Citizens are even forced to submit to these ID scans within their own homes. Perhaps the most frightening (and infuriating) scene in the movie is when police, searching a building for Tom Cruise's character, release tiny android spiders into the building. These spiders crawl into every apartment, sense the body heat of the the occupants, and crawl up on their chests and scan their eyes to determine identity. (Of course, there is no mention of the Fourth Amendment, warrants, or probable cause. No doubt the federal courts have by that time taken care of all such needless obstruction to law enforcement efficiency.) So inured to this invasion of privacy are the citizens of the future that a couple in the middle of a fight pause but a moment while the spiders clamour over them, then keep right on fighting. Cruise tries to hide, but when that fails, he only escapes because he has gone to the extreme lengths of having his eyes surgically replaced with those of a non-wanted person.

I desperately wanted to see someone start stomping on those creepy spiders, but alas, it was not to be. Realistically, the passive attitude of the sheeple in Minority Report is representative of most people, who are quite willing to give up liberty for the promise of security.

Now, how this applies to us here in Alabama:

The Alabama Driver's License [Alabama DL] contains a photo (digitally stored in state records), holograms and other anti-counterfeiting features, and a bar code on the back containing license information. The Ala. Dept. of Public Safety (the state agency responsible for issuing driver's licenses) tried to implement a rule requiring driver's to give their fingerprints back in 1997, but public outcry at the time scotched that plan. However, at this time they did add the bar code to the back--a feature that Alabama DL's had previously lacked.

Of course, the government gave assurances at the time that the only people scanning your license would be the police, and they could check your info anyway--this would just be a time saver. No merchant would ever scan your license. Well, it's six years later, and guess what!

At least one bar in Tuscaloosa, The Houndstooth, on the Strip, is using a scanner to read the bar codes on Alabama DL's. What happens to this information is unknown. It may not be stored, or it may go into a database and be sold to marketers. Showing at least a dim awareness of its many dangers, many Alabama drivers choose to not have their Socialist Slave Number [SSN] printed on the front of the license to protect their privacy, but I'd bet it is included in the bar code data. Anyone reading the bar code would have your SSN and other vital info, making identity theft easy. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that numerous other businesses are installing these scanners. After all, it's an easy way to build up a customer database for marketing purposes (don't we all get enough junk mail already?). Combine the information on the licenses with the fact that many stores also have your credit card numbers, and the possibilities for fraud and theft by a dishonest employee are incredible.

I don't think the erosion of privacy will ever come to tattooing numbers on the arm or forehead. That's too primitive, too repulsive, too reminiscent of the Nazis. This is the 21st century! We can do better than that! I think the scenario in Minority Report is much more plausible. Future universal ID programs will rely on biometric ID, such as eye or face-scanning technology, or fingerprints. There will be much less resistance to using these features than to implanting chips or other physical alterations. In the meantime, few people seem to object to the transformation of our society, and see nothing unusual or upsetting in the fact that all but the simplest transactions nowadays require ID, or that government and businesses try to collect it even when it is not required.

What can the average citizen do to stop these invasions of privacy? Now is the time to draw a line in the sand, and say THIS FAR AND NO FURTHER! If any business tries to run your ID through a scanner, stop them, refuse to allow the scan, and tell them why. Then tell them you are taking your business somewhere else where they aren't so nosy about their customers. If enough folks object, maybe the businesses will get the message.

Not all the recent privacy news is bad. The University of Alabama, after receiving years of complaints and noting the increasing incidence of identity theft, has recently decided to issue new student ID numbers, instead of using the SSN for that purpose. It was claimed by its creators that the SSN was not intended to become a universal ID number, used by every business and agency to track your activities, but that is in fact what has happened. As Thomas Jefferson said, "All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent." Do not remain silent. Don't passively hand over ID when asked to do so. Demand to know WHY they need to see your ID, and refuse if possible. And under no circumstance should you allow your ID to be scanned.

While I believe that in fact, the state should not issue ID or require any such thing as a driver's license (being free to travel on the public roads is a right, not a privilege) there are interim steps that can be taken to reduce the danger of a driver's license becoming a de facto national ID card (we have virtually reached that stage already). If any legislators are reading, pay attention! The Alabama State Legislature should:

(1) Eliminate the requirement that SSN's be provided to obtain a license. SSN's should not be required, collected, or associated with Alabama DL's in any way.

(2) Remove bar codes from Alabama DL's, and no "smart chip" or other computer technology should be incorporated into the card. Computer scanning features must not be permitted.

(3) Remove photographs from Alabama DL's. This will reduce the use by private businesses of the Alabama DL as identification and spur the growth of various private identification alternatives which will pose far less danger to privacy than the government ID monopoly.

In the meantime, the next time someone asks to see your ID, why not ask to see theirs first!

Relying on the government to protect
your privacy is like asking a Peeping Tom
to install your window blinds.
-- John Perry Barlow


RoA Icon
[Home]
[FAC Archives]