American Consequences - September 2018

license, a travel visa, naturalization, or certain jobs, or even simply gone to an amusement park. Increasingly, we use our fingerprints or our face to unlock our smartphones, pay for purchases, and board airplanes. The protection against theft is obvious: what use is a phone, car, or ticket that will only work for its legitimate owner? Above all, biometrics can protect against theft of our identities themselves. That is the argument behind the world’s largest biometrics project, a multimodal solution (iris, fingerprints, and face) affecting more than one billion Indians. Nandan Nilekani, the chairman of Infosys who left his job to create the system, known as Aadhaar, credits it with saving the Indian government roughly $9 billion by eliminating duplicate and false identities in government beneficiary lists.

Technological developments in recent years have highlighted not only the benefits of big data, but also the need to come to terms with the dangers it poses to our privacy, civil liberties, and human rights. Nowhere is this question more relevant than with the latest source of that data: our bodies. Law enforcement authorities around the world are building and using technologies to identify us from our biometrics, including our face, fingerprints, DNA, voice, iris, and gait. Long used in passports and at border crossings, these unique identity markers have many other applications. For years, we have allowed governments and companies to gather and analyze our biometric data whenever we have applied for a driver’s

By Anne-Marie Slaughter & Stephanie Hare


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