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-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- YOUR PAPERS, PLEASE ... Banks require fingerprint ID 'Raises the difficult tension between security and privacy'


By Jon E. Dougherty ) 2000

For Pennsylvania resident Patrick Giagnocavo, the fact that the First Union Bank teller was asking him for identification before she would cash his check was a matter of long-accepted procedure. After all, he didn't have an account at the bank, even though the company who issued the check was an account holder. But when Giagnocavo made ready to show the teller his required photo identification in the form of a current passport he used to travel outside the continental United States, he was surprised to find it wasn't good enough. The teller wanted his fingerprint too.

Giagnocavo is among the millions of Americans who are both amazed -- and alarmed -- at the rapid advance of information technology. Biometrics -- the name given to technology used to identify persons via fingerprint, retinal (eye) scans or voice recognition -- is making remarkable progress to the point that average citizens fear they have already lost their most prized possession: their privacy.

Though a bank official admitted to Giagnocavo that his required fingerprint identification could not be immediately verified when he questioned the practice, "the argument she made," he told WorldNetDaily, "was that it was only used if the check was fraudulent -- then the check with fingerprint would be turned over to the police." That bit of information, he said, led him to believe that his fingerprint data would have to be kept "on file" somewhere. Otherwise there would be nothing to turn over to police.

Indeed, check fraud appears to be the rallying cry banks are using to justify ever more intrusive inroads into their customers' privacy. According to the American Bankers Association, U.S. banks lost "$815 million to check fraud in 1993." And, the banking organization said, it supports fingerprint verification through a program the organization founded called the "Thumbprint Signature Program" as a direct method of reducing such losses.

The organization's literature says the program even permits member banks to require thumbprint identification from persons cashing government checks, "provided the bank has not entered into an agreement with a regulator or other government entity under which it agrees to cash government checks for non-customers on the same terms as it cashes checks for its customers."

The banking organization stopped short of recommending that every non-customer be subjected to fingerprint identification before being allowed to cash a check. However, ABA recommends to all member banks that they have a written policy guiding their thumbprint program administration and to make sure it is "applied consistently to avoid allegations of discriminatory treatment."

One of the major selling points to the program, the American Bankers Association maintains, is that it allows participating banks to assist "law enforcement agencies in the investigation of fraud claims made by account holders." Fine, said Giagnocavo, but the industry offers weak guarantees that the information won't be abused by those charged with protecting it.

"Banks make microfilms or use electronic document imaging to keep a permanent record of checks that they handle," Giagnocavo said. "How do I know that they won't sell this data -- since they have my name, passport number, and fingerprint -- to someone else?"

"Participants will not retain the Thumbprint Signature in their files and the signatures will be shared with law enforcement officials only in cases of suspected fraud," said the ABA. And, the group said, pilot programs in Arizona and Nevada have been found so far to decrease check fraud by about 75 percent.

While security experts agree that fingerprint identification is the ultimate in high-tech protection of data, files and even property, privacy advocates continue to decry its implementation over fears that the information cannot be fully protected from disclosure.

"The fingerprint identification raises the difficult tension between security and privacy," said Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, in a March 1999 interview with the New York Times. "Security gives more authentication, and that's good ... but on the privacy side we create the risk of a new global identifier."

And fears that some firms may sell private information, including archived customer fingerprints, are not unfounded.

In a final ruling issued Feb. 10, the Federal Trade Commission ordered Trans Union, a credit reporting agency, to stop selling or distributing "consumer reports, including those in the form of target marketing lists, to any person unless respondent has reason to believe that such person intends to use the consumer report for purposes" authorized by law.

And earlier this month, the Internet advertising giant DoubleClick announced it would no longer collect personal information from the computers of users who clicked on the company's advertising banners, which are located on thousands of websites around the world. The company does, however, "collect non-personally identifiable information about you, such as the server your computer is logged onto, your browser type (for example, Netscape or Internet Explorer), and whether you responded to the ad delivered."

Currently, bank customers may, for example, have a number of different passwords for different accounts. While using a fingerprint gives a person a single, universal ID for all accounts, it also means all of a person's data is related to a single identifier and thus puts more of that data at risk. A password is much easier to steal than a fingerprint, but fingerprints can be taken from water glasses or other objects without a person's knowledge.

However, many companies have developed or are developing intelligent software that will enable virtual automatic biometric identification in transactions, in controlling security access, and in online Internet operations. As more technology becomes available, the equipment to gather such information will become more advanced and much smaller. And, experts believe, the temptation to make money from the information will also increase.

"I have read somewhere that since the FDIC got shot down on 'Know Your Customer,' they are trying to persuade banks to do things voluntarily, thus skirting the need to pass laws or rulings," Giagnocavo said. "Corporate fascism rears its ugly head."


Jon E. Dougherty is a staff reporter for WorldNetDaily.

-- me (, March 23, 2000


Haven't you heard that World Net Daily is a rag???

-- (Why@ do you post.this crap), March 23, 2000. from something with times, post, tribune, journal in the name. those are all chock full 'o reliable news...

gimme a break, chris ruddy does more to expose the truth in one day than ted turner and his cronies have done in their lives...

-- Uncle Bob (, March 23, 2000.


please tell us the truth,

What kind of drugs are you on????

-- (You're@on.acid), March 23, 2000.

Cool technology. I can see the retina scan becoming more prominent very soon....

-- My eyes! My Eyes! (youburned@my.eyes), March 23, 2000.

First Union has been doing this for years, at least three years in the case of some New Joisey branches.

I am a former customer. I stopped going to the branches when they pulled this stunt, and then left the bank all together when the improperly handled an identify fraud case.

-- FutureShock (gray@matter.think), March 24, 2000.

Wells Fargo, B of A, Union Bank, etc, etc, etc in Cali are doing it much for the rag theory...

-- Uncle Bob (, March 24, 2000.

The information must come from a charismatic guy like Dan or Peter or Slick Willie to be believed. No other truth exist......

-- KoFE (your@town.USA), March 24, 2000.

When someone steals your ATM card, maybe they'll be taking your finger too?

-- helen (, March 24, 2000.

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