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Saturday, December 22, 2007

I'm short, I'm overweight, and I have green eyes and brown hair. Next!
Posted by Jill | 9:38 AM
Still think that fears of Big Brotherism are just so much dystopian paranoia?

The FBI is embarking on a $1 billion effort to build the world's largest computer database of peoples' physical characteristics, a project that would give the government unprecedented abilities to identify individuals in the United States and abroad.

Digital images of faces, fingerprints and palm patterns are already flowing into FBI systems in a climate-controlled, secure basement here. Next month, the FBI intends to award a 10-year contract that would significantly expand the amount and kinds of biometric information it receives. And in the coming years, law enforcement authorities around the world will be able to rely on iris patterns, face-shape data, scars and perhaps even the unique ways people walk and talk, to solve crimes and identify criminals and terrorists. The FBI will also retain, upon request by employers, the fingerprints of employees who have undergone criminal background checks so the employers can be notified if employees have brushes with the law.

"Bigger. Faster. Better. That's the bottom line," said Thomas E. Bush III, assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division, which operates the database from its headquarters in the Appalachian foothills.

The increasing use of biometrics for identification is raising questions about the ability of Americans to avoid unwanted scrutiny. It is drawing criticism from those who worry that people's bodies will become de facto national identification cards. Critics say that such government initiatives should not proceed without proof that the technology really can pick a criminal out of a crowd.

Sometimes I worry that if I ever have to find another job, my writings here will cause a problem. But that fear may be overblown, because if everything about us is in a single database, it will give employers ever-more excuses not to hire us and instead outsource our jobs to low-wage countries, where they don't care about the employees' backgrounds, as long as they're cheap.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can be SURE that your Web presence will be noted by any future employer. Indeed, the HR folks -- if not the headhunter -- would be seriously remiss if they didn't Google every candidate that came through the door.

Whether your blogging is a factor [Didn't your current employer have an issue with it? Didn't they block blogger.com?] would doubtless depend on the political persuasion of the company and hiring manager.

The IT culture of New Jersey [old-line pharma and financial] does not strike me as encouraging or supporting employee blogs..

Blogger Jill said...
So I guess that means we're supposed to just sit down and shut up while they destroy everything? Sorry....I just can't do that.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
I didn't say or mean that! Indeed, that might be so far down their list of reasons not to hire...

You and I both have "employment" problems in the IT world. Mine is age! And the fact that I've spent most of my career building network and telecom products, few of which are being built anymore and even fewer being built/programmed in this country! Yours -- at least by your statements -- is an obsolete -- or at least viewed that way by the "young Turks" that run IT these days -- programming language.

Actually, the turks might like blogging. It's so "Web 2.0", especially the feedback. And you publish/link to YouTube a lot, which should make you somewhat "cooler" than me..

And no! You're not just supposed to sit down and shut up -- although if you worked with the same folks in Texas that I'm contracting for you'd long since have been shown the door, if not a bullet. [They think the fact that Iran is not yet radioactive sand/glass is a travesty of monumental proportions and grounds for impeachment. And if you don't have anything to hide, you shouldn't care if the 'govment' listens to your calls and reads your emails. They probably view me as a simple and mistaken God-less Yankee and will overlook my transgressions until they've sucked my mind dry!!]

Unfortunately, "political persuasion" is not one of the protected items in any Civil Rights or employment law I'm familiar with. And unless your employment situation is a lot different than any I've experienced, the employer can terminate you for just about anything EXCEPT being short and green eyed [which probably reveals ethnicity].

But if I were you and were looking for employment, I'd certainly prepare for the "So I see you've got a blog....." question.

Blogger Jill said...
Don't tell Ben Forta that Cold Fusion is obsolete. :) But age is a bigger problem for me than political leaning anyway. I happen to like my current job; I just hope that I can keep it for another 14 years, since we rely on research grants.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
ANOTHER 14 years? I'm hoping to make 4! Is there ANY IT job out there that will last 14 years?
What will "The Web" look like then? How many exahertz will the average cellphone [or whatever the personal communicator will be called!] have? How many zettabytes? I can't even imagine.
I've been at this over 30 years. I think I've seen my 7th or 8th generation of "stuff". I remember when 300 baud was "fast".

But perhaps "obsolete" is the wrong term. "Not commonly used" is perhaps better. I don't do Web design professionally and tend to use one of the freebies or Frontpage when I do, so I don't actually know what's popular these days. But my gut feel is that CF isn't in the top 5.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Biometrics is a not-ready-for-prime-time technology from an identification standpoint.

Fingerprints are the most reliable biometric measurement currently available, and it still has a 2% failure rate. That sounds pretty good, and it's more than tolerable if you are doing 100 scans a day. However, a decent sized airport or courthouse probably does 100 scans a minute. In fact, LAX is expecting 2 million travelers between last Friday and January 2. That's one airport, and if they did fingerprint scanning of ticket holders they would be looking at 20,000 failures. That inevitably means 20,000 people who need additional screening. By way of disclaimer, I had to submit my fingerprints to the state and FBI for background check to get my current license; the process took weeks despite being done electronically.

Face scans are even worse, and can be thrown off by smiling. Didn't any of these people read "A Tale of Two Cities"?

Fourteen years at one job? Heck, in my adult life I haven't even logged 14 years at one address.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am currently involved in computer biometrics. If we could get only a 2% failure rate on my current project we'd be thrilled beyond recognition. Ours is a lot closer to 6-7%.

I would suspect a place like LAX would suffer closer to a 10% failure. Of course, they've not told us exactly what they will be doing with the fingerprints or how they plan to collect them. But unless they have some super magic device up their sleeve, the collecting process will greatly slow down the "checkin" such that I would doubt the ability of LAX to even move 2 million passengers in that time frame -- unless people want to arrive 8 hours early and stand in line...

But in answer to your question: These people don't read the most current literature, much less classical literature. I've been involved with at least 3 failed facial recognition programs. I suspect this one is being pushed by "the usual suspects". I'd put Rockwell near the top of my suspect list. How much did they make from DoD contracts this year?