Giving Brass the Finger(print)

Posted on February 8, 2018

Right Now with Nick Smith

What I’m listening to: NOFX’s seminal Punk in Drublic
What I’m reading: I haven’t cracked it yet, but I’m really excited to start Science and the City: The Mechanics Behind the Metropolis

Congratulations are in order for Darryl De Sousa, but I would not want to be Baltimore’s new police commissioner right now.
As years of corruption and ineffective policing come to a head in the Charm City, the Department has begun to implement several new policies to stem the problem, up to and including required fingerprint tracking to prove officers have worked the hours they’re claiming.

Just like any other newly-emerging technology (okay, it’s been around for a few years, but we’re governments, so it’s new to us), biometrics is a bit controversial as it applies to the workplace.
The problem is easy to see in this quote from department spokesman TJ Smith:

“Let’s not sugar-coat this: Criminals found a gap in the system and took full advantage of it. That’s not fair to the city, and it’s not fair to the men and women in this agency who do their job honorably every day.”

I’ve been in the military, so I get collective punishment. The whole unit has to understand the problem so that they don’t repeat it, you have to change the entire culture that allows this sort of thing to happen in the first place, et cetera.

But this is something different than doing push ups for someone else’s jelly donut. This is taking timestamped biometric data from a police officer’s body (and by proxy, their individual agency) and registering it with a government entity because some of your colleagues are literal criminals.
Are there benefits? Sure! Save money on ID cards. Probably some others. But is that what they signed up for? Do they even deserve that? But then, by extension of that question, does anyone? And what sort of message does it send to the public when the highest-ranking officers in a police department effectively says “We don’t trust these beat cops, but it’s okay, you totally should.”
Then, there are questions technologically — Who stores the data? What recourse do officers have if there’s a breach?
I suppose in the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that we have fingerprint scanners on our time clocks — but they’re in no way compulsory. As far as I know, they’re intended as some sort of tertiary backup in case you forget your badge and can’t use the web interface to log in, but I honestly don’t know for sure, because I have never (not once) used them.

As with many of my #MorningBuzz posts about the approaching singularity technology in government, I have to point out that I’m neither a lawyer, nor a trained ethicist — but I do think that as our society continues to aggressively focus on security issues, and as our technological capabilities continue to allow greater abilities to proffer that security, it’s worth thinking about what we, as civil servants would do in the event that we were confronted with confusing and perhaps invasive technologies.
Because it’s going to happen. The future is now.

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