• United States

Security technology: Protective or invasion of privacy?

Jan 15, 20033 mins
Access ControlEnterprise ApplicationsSecurity

* When identity management could be used to help fight crime

Today we’ll sum up the issue of identity management and privacy, at least as it relates to security and criminal activity.

One method law enforcement agencies have used to round up scofflaws is sometimes called the “Super Bowl Scam.” The way it generally works is that the police sends letters or makes phone calls to either the fugitive’s last known address or to the home of a relative. The call or letter indicates that the fugitive has won something, typically tickets to a sporting event or even an all-expense-paid trip to the event. The culprit is instructed to report to a public building to pick up the necessary documents and is then arrested when he shows up.

On the face of it this is unethical behavior, even worse than the “you may have won” mailings of magazine publishers. But because the recipients are fugitives from justice (typically, this is used to round up fathers who fail to pay child support) society winks and says it’s OK.

At an actual Super Bowl (a major U.S. football match for my overseas friends) a couple of years ago, the Tampa, Fla., police set up computer-operated scanning cameras at the entrances to the stadium in which the game was played. The software could, supposedly, match up records in a database of wanted criminals with the facial-scans from the cameras. In that instance no arrests were made. Nevertheless, privacy advocates decried the experiment claiming it smacked of Big Brother monitoring citizens’ activities. Of course, most people are subject to even greater surveillance whenever they visit a department store – which rely heavily on hidden cameras to monitor activities. There’s also little outcry when police officers watch the entrances and exits to places known to attract criminals and then proceed to arrest those they identify as fugitives.

From these examples it appears that it’s the technology, not the ethics or the tactics, that some people are objecting to. In the past I’ve exhorted you to evangelize to your colleagues, partners, clients and vendors on the benefits of the directory and directory services. It may be that I set your sights too high.

The world (or at least the part of it that can attract the attention of news reporters) appears to be entering a neo-Luddite phase in which technology itself is attacked because of its so-called “dehumanizing” aspects. So we need to take a step back and start extolling the virtues of technology as a way to relieve people of the really dehumanizing aspects of their daily lives – the repetitive, mind-numbing activities that are nonetheless necessary to function in society. Identity management and directory services can go along way toward relieving the drudgery, but only if people will accept technology that may be beyond their control. How to do this eludes me at the moment. As always, I solicit your opinions.