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U.S. Business: Fingerprint Scans At Work

March 26, 2008

Biometrics has slowly been encroaching on the business world. Some of the work world has responded with a knee-jerk reaction. “They don’t even have to hire someone to harass you anymore. The machine can do it for them,” said Ed Ott, executive director of the New York City Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO. “The palm print thing really grabs people as a step too far.”

biometric-device.jpgBusiness sees this step as well intentioned: designed to replace antiquated payroll systems. Employers are buying them with payroll recordkeeping in mind and are used only for log in and log out. No cards or badges are needed. Business invested $635 million in these machines last year.

Biometric scanners have intimidated draftsmen, planners and architects in New York City’s Parks Department since they began using the scanners last year. “Psychologically, I think it has had a huge impact on the work force here because it is demeaning and because it’s a system based on mistrust,” said Ricardo Hinkle, a landscape architect who designs city parks. He considers the timekeeping system a bureaucratic intrusion on professionals who never used to think twice about putting in extra time on a project they cared about, and could rely on human managers to exercise a little flexibility on matters regarding work hours. “The creative process isn’t one that punches in and punches out.” Now it does.

Business considers this new technology no different than punching a clock. Biometric machine providers herald cost savings for employers while being convenient for employees. An additional bonus for the employer is that the system cannot fooled by a co-worker to punch another employee in and systems are accurate. More sophisticated systems tie directly into computer timekeeping systems. Privacy concerns are unfounded according to Ingersol Rand, a producer of biometric devices. The hand scanners don’t keep large databases of people’s fingerprints. The machines keep only a record of hand shape. Apparently, the accuracy of hand shape is sufficient to do the job.

One thing is clear to civil liberties and privacy proponents. These primitive biometric devices have opened the door to more invasive and sophisticated equipment in the future without the knowledge of the users if the equipment has the same appearance. The appearance of these devices has now set of precedence of normalcy. The door is opened and the world of business technology can’t go back.

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