Hands off!

Hand scan payment at shell stations?

Dear Friend,

Would you give up your fingerprints so you could get in and out of a gas station more quickly? Shell Oil thinks that you will. And so once again, it seems that Americans are ready to cash in their privacy for a little convenience. And once again, our society inches just a little closer to the world that George Orwell imagined in his novel 1984 - a world utterly without any privacy.

Ten Shell gas stations in the Chicago area are testing biometric systems that let you pay for your purchases using a fingertip scan. Your fingerprint would be linked directly to your checking or credit card accounts for payment. The system was created by a company with the deceptively friendly name of "Pay by Touch."

Does this worry me? You bet your bottom it does. This little "convenience" offered by Shell proves that the "surveillance state" that I've warned you about isn't as far away as we'd like to believe it is.

According to a spokesman for Shell, "Customers are always looking for ways to make buying gasoline quicker and easier, and always looking for ways to make their transactions faster and more secure." Shell claims that people don't want to "carry more cards, kits, and key chains" and they want these conveniences to be "free."

But freedom at what cost?

You may believe that biometrics like hand-scans - and even retinal scans that we've all seen in science fiction films - are protecting you from the growing menace of identity theft. But it just baffles my mind that people are willing to surrender something as personal and unique as their fingerprints to a corporation. While this may be theoretically more secure than a credit card PIN code, an email password, a social security card, or even a photo ID, just remember: you're giving up a vital part of yourself to some corporation that's motive is always - ALWAYS - profit. Profit above all else - including your security.

Naturally, the beneficent and ever-helpful Shell Oil company claims they would "never share personal information of their customers with third parties." If you believe that pile of B.S., just think about it the next time you're sorting all the junk out of your daily mail. And, of course, your phone calls are only being monitored for quality control purposes. Any other lies you want to hear?

But it's not just Shell that's at fault here. Already, the trend has spread. Sunflower Market, a Chicago-based grocery store chain, has also installed Pay by Touch systems in their stores, though only about two percent of its customers have signed up to use the service - so at least some people in Chicago are using their heads instead of their hands.

The manager of one Sunflower store thinks people are put off by the system. "I think it scares people," the manager said. "Some of them say, 'Well, now the FBI can find me.'"

Know what? Those people are right. The FBI routinely accesses credit card records when tracking suspects. There's no reason that they can't use the finger scan in the same way. And thanks to these "convenience" schemes run by the big corporations on out lazy, time-crunch obsessed populace, it seems that sooner rather than later, the government will be able to build up a database of fingerprints on everyone in the U.S. - whether you have a criminal record or not.