CON GAMES: Little Brother Better Watch Out

We are not yet ready to accuse the little tykes who attend the local schools of crimes against the state--are you?--but the news that kids in Aspen are going to be summarily fingerprinted to facilitate cafeteria lines can't be seen as anything but a sign that the apocalypse is upon us like yesterday.

Like most horrendous ideas, this one seems simple enough: the Aspen School District has already whisked through a pilot program that allowed the children of School District employees to buy lunch with nothing more fungible than a fingerprint scan. March 2009 is go-time for a full-blown system in the middle and elementary schools.

Recalcitrant parents will have a chance to opt-out of the fingerprinting system, but the Aspen School District's rationale for the new scanners is specious at best. The new system will no doubt speed up lines in the cafeteria and hence soothe students prone to lose other means of payment. No doubt record-keeping will be enhanced.

But at what cost?

I can't help but read this news in the context of one movie after another--the "The Matrix" (1999), "Minority Report" (2002), "Déjà Vu" (2006), and Eagle Eye" (2006)--that posit a future whereupon the network is always on, and you the citizens of the republic are exposed to scrutiny every time you swipe a card or pass by a video camera. In Hollywood, the purveyors of these futurespeak tales use the possibility of ubiquitous technology as a shortcut to logical plotting, but the idea of a lumbering government looming over your shoulder is a near-and-present danger.

Consider the destructive, deconstructive tendencies of the erstwhile, ignoble Administration just past, where phone records and email transmissions were fair game regardless of the inconvenient truths found within existing federal law. (And note well the absolution after-the-fact bestowed upon cooperating telecommunications companies.) No doubt arguments for child fingerprinting will center on the safety of the people--the little people--even as the records of their journey through life are one day left open to abuse.

Consider further the possibility for abuse in a far less democratic state than ours, where Orwellian constructs are not only possible but likely, and people will have to answer to every thought, word, and deed. Even in the best of democratic circumstances, with watchdogs howling, the convenience of technology--who wants a slow cafeteria line?--will be persuasive in all but the most abusive cases. Count on it.

What's the harm?

Fingerprints, like DNA, will constitute definitive identification--fair enough--but the abuse is all but guaranteed not only by the potential for inaccurate prints, but also in the way faulty data can be associated with such a definitive ID and hence the individual. And once bad data becomes associated with your fingerprints, it's sayonara to the truth until you can convince the powers that be--the School District, the corporation, the state--that somebody out there has done you wrong.

Good luck with that. Have you ever tried to correct your credit report?

Fingerprints and DNA literally emanate from your body with the certitude that implies. But the illusion of accuracy is not to be confused with the real deal. The movies in this case are a harbinger of our future--and not a happy one at that. This is not "The Jetsons." Fingerprint our children and it's only a matter of time before things go horribly wrong.