Paying by Prints: Easy or Invasive? Biometric Data Is a Concern for Legislators

Article excerpt

Byline: WALTER C. JONES

ATLANTA - For eight hours, Sue Ella Deadwyler sat and listened to testimony before a legislative committee that drew one reporter and a handful of lawmakers and lobbyists.

Only the topic would keep her so focused - safeguarding the privacy of biometric information. She was concerned after reading about it, but hearing hours of discussion on gee-whiz technological advances left her feeling more spooked.

"This is very important because it smacks of surveillance. It will smack of surveillance if it is ever put into place," she said.

Her faith led her to all the hearings by the House Study Committee on Biological Privacy so she could share what she learned with a handful of like-minded conservative Christians who subscribe to a monthly newsletter she writes.

"I'm just very concerned that the privacy rights the United States has always afforded its citizens is under threat," she said.

Her feelings are shared by freshman Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth. He is the chairman of the committee, which is focusing on whether laws are needed to protect the public's fingerprints, physical likeness and DNA data from misuse by the government, merchants or employers. The question is of a greater magnitude than routine identity-theft concerns, he says.

"I can get a new credit card number or a new Social Security number, but I can never get issued a new fingerprint," he said.

Biometric data can offer consumers convenience compared with having to remember passwords.

For example, McFarland's Foods in Canton is one of the few retailers in the state that uses biometric data - a fingerprint scanner - before authorizing personal checks, though several national chains are testing it. The added level of security allows owner Tommy McFarland to offer check service to his customers where the risk of taking bad checks might make it too expensive otherwise.

Schools in Rome have begun using finger scans this year to track lunch purchases, and the University of Georgia has scanned the hands of meal-plan subscribers since 1972.

Many banks across the state also employ some type of biometrics for their employees and, in some cases, their depositors.

And the prevalence will only increase as new federal regulations take effect requiring two levels of identification for certain transactions, such as those conducted online.

Voice-recognition software may be used as one of them, according to Elizabeth Chandler, lobbyist for the Georgia Bankers Association.

She noted that federal employees will soon be issued personnel ID cards containing their biometric data.

"Our industry and others are expected to borrow those standards," she said.

Local governments are likely to issue similar cards to comply with rules by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on credentials for access to disaster sites, which would range from the firefighters and police who respond initially to the maintenance workers who must clean it up. …