John Colson: Hit and Run | AspenTimes.com

John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly

Hmmmm, Big Brother seems to be knocking on our door a little bit louder now, eh?

Or, perhaps I should say Big Sister, since the momentum behind the Aspen School District’s proposed fingerprinting plan seems to be coming from Superintendent Diana Sirko’s desk.

It may not have been Sirko’s idea initially, I’ll grant you, but the buck stops with her.

Not that personalities are the issue here. It’s a potpourri of assumptions, ideas and beliefs that add up to one line we keep hearing from the government: “Trust us, we know what we’re doing,” as they prepare to implement some system that will fingerprint kids as they pass along the lunch line in the school cafeteria, “recognize” the kids as deserving a place in line and somehow add their total to a bill that will be sent to their parents.

This is the same government (well, a couple of steps removed, but you know what I mean) that let go of the reins of oversight on the financial industry, in a deliberate act that covered more than 20 years of policies and administrations.

And it turns out those reins were necessary to do the job of steering those gigantic fiscal steeds that pull the world’s economic stagecoach through the long nights and dusty days of our adventure in multinationalism.

To take the metaphor a little further, the steeds took the bits in their mouths and before long were runaways, careening along with little heed to the damage they were doing to the coach and the road itself, and look where that’s gotten us. The road is a mess, the stagecoach is a wreck, and the passengers are all bleeding.

So, when the government says, “Trust us,” it behooves those of us whose trust reflexes are a little rusty to take a close look at what’s being proposed.

In the first place, the fingerprint-system company, M2SYS, is an unknown quantity, at least to me. A search of the Internet pulled up a few websites, including a Wikipedia page that reveals that the two principal geeks in this privately held firm are Mizan Rahman and Michael Trader ” hence the “M2” moniker, I reckon.

The company hails from Georgia, a place that is linked in my memory with civil rights outrages, a museum about space exploration, a pea-nutty president, a hugely disturbing movie scene with the line, “Squeal like a pig!” and not much else. The effusive jargon on the company’s website itself, which extols the virtues of the fingerprint recognition technology, might be impressive to someone looking for ways to keep kids moving as quickly as possible through the assembly line of the lunch room, but it gave me chills. I don’t understand, or agree with, our national rush to homogenize everything, make everything quick and seamless and, along the way, set up databases that seem designed to make it easier for us to be tracked through our daily lives and to have our identity hijacked by evil geeks.

The plain fact is that we hear every day about how identity theft is a growing threat, as hackers and geeks use their innate talents and deep-seated psychoses to navigate their way around the inner workings of corporations, government databases, security systems and the like. The M2SYS people have told the district that the fingerprints themselves are not stored, but that the system “recognizes unique points on a fingerprint” and uses that data to record, say, the fact that your kid bought a creampuff and a hot dog for lunch.

But doesn’t that imply that somewhere there is a date file, a bit-map or something that holds your kid’s fingerprint? How else could the system “recognize” it?

And if it’s stored somewhere, it can be retrieved by someone other than its intended user. And when your kid is grown and gone, working in some anonymous cubicle or running for elective office or saving lives in an African village, someone may well be able to retrieve that fingerprint and steal his or her identity.

It’s that simple.

Now, I realize that Sirko and her staff are well-meaning bureaucrats, but they have a built-in bias to trust the government because, well, they are the government, and they have to trust themselves. Right?

But we all have seen the damage that the government can do to our lives, our bank accounts, our future when we trust it too much.

Remember the soldiers, the entire towns that stood in the way of atomic radiation and fallout from our nuclear bomb tests in Nevada in the 1950s, all because the government told them it would be OK, to “Trust us?”

Sure, this is nothing like that. Except it is. We’re still being told, “Trust us.”

And that makes me nervous. What about you?

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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