Biometric scanners are hardly a novelty these days, but how the data they generate can be used is still controversial. Here's a good example from Venezuela of how function creep there has turned fingerprint readers into instruments of pervasive surveillance:
In Caracas or Maracaibo' supermarkets and drugstores, buying a kilogram of grain or a pack of cookies has become a complex procedure: it's required for you to deliver an ID, full name, phone number, address, date of birth and to slide both thumbs in a device: the emblematic "fingerprint scanner"; a device which usage by stores was originally voluntary, but which evolution, months afterwards, is one of omnipresent machinery, kind of a necessary toll for the acquisition of a simple pack of gum in any chain store.
As a post on the Digital Rights in Latin America and the Caribbean blog explains, the Food Safety Biometric System was supposed to be a boon for citizens, ending Venezuela's food and medicine shortage. Not only has it failed to do that, it has helped create one of the world's most complete and intrusive population profile databases:
Along with biometric and personal data requested to the customers at the moment of the purchase, stores are obliged to preserve a great deal of information regarding the transaction, demanded by the government's tax collector. The extend [sic] of the databases that the Venezuelan government possesses regarding their citizens would be heaven for any big data analyst. With enough computer skills, it wouldn't be difficult to establish a detailed profile of every Venezuelan citizen, starting from data such as address, the places where he shops, how much money he expends and the products he acquires. Nevertheless, no one outside of the government possesses the capability to know if ... systems are intertwined, or where this huge quantity of information is stored, much less what's the policy for its retention and storage.
That would be worrying anywhere; in Venezuela, it's doubly so, because of the country's experience with something called the Tascón List:
a list of millions of signatures of Venezuelans who petitioned in 2003 and 2004 for the recall of the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, a petition which ultimately led to the Venezuelan recall referendum, 2004, in which the recall was defeated. The list, published online by National Assembly member Luis Tascón, is used by the Venezuelan government to discriminate against those who have signed against Chávez. The government also claimed some private firms were using the list to discriminate in favour of petitioners.
According to the Digital Rights post, because of the Tascón list, some Venezuelans found themselves shut out from things like mortgage loans, scholarships and job opportunities. The fingerprint scanners of the Food Safety Biometric System are already being used to deny people access to even more essential items -- food and medicine:
those marked by the system shopping in quantities superior to those of their established quotas, go to a blacklist, and are blocked completely from the system. This makes them use the (illegal) black market in order to purchase food, medicines and basic products.
Venezuela is clearly the country to watch if you want to see how not to use biometrics.
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