You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.
Skip to content

Handheld fingerprint readers and the British surveillance state

Hundreds of years ago, with the passage of the Magna Carta, Great Britain took a bold step in outlining basic civil liberties for the common man. Unfortunately, over the past few years, the UK has switched from being a basic rights trend-setter, to a surveillance innovator. What ever happened?

Last year, a troubling new law came into effect which makes it a criminal offense to refuse to hand over one’s encryption key to law¬† enforcement engaged in a ‘legitimate’ investigation. This was tested out in court a couple weeks ago, and unfortunately, the right to privacy lost. As Ars Technica described:

The Court stated that although there was a right to not self-incriminate, this was not absolute, and that the “public interest” can supersede this right in some circumstances.fd

Just last week, the British government floated a proposal to require that a passport be shown in order to purchase a mobile phone or SIM card. After all, whats the point in spending all that money recording calls and real-time location information if you can’t be sure who is speaking on the other end of the line.

Finally, the latest nail in the privacy coffin has been announced: Starting in 2009, British police will be issued hand-held fingerprint readers, connected to a central server via a wireless/cellular connection. Given the existing (and troubling) powers that police have to arbitrarily stop and question people in the street due to “terrorism” concerns, this’ll allow them to immediately determine someone’s identity on the spot, with or without a national ID card.

Thankfully, it isn’t yet a crime to not have working fingerprints. Thus, it’s quite quite easy to imagine the privacy-aware crowd turning to acid, glue or other techniques to erase the ridges and swirls from their own fingertips.

{ 2 } Comments