Identity Crisis

Whenever I go for a workout, I face a choice as I walk through the front doors of my gym. The welcome desk gatekeepers scan the barcode on the back of my membership card to a) make sure I’m really me, and b) keep track of my visits (a motivational data point reported back to me at month-end). Recently, my club gave me the choice to scan my mobile phone instead, using a barcode produced by their app. And there you have it: the emergence of the virtual ID badge.

Please don’t steal this

Given the myriad uses of phones these days, you’d ask why I wouldn’t shred my physical gym card and embrace virtual identity.  Alas, what works at the welcome desk does not work beyond it.  My gym’s lockers still use the physical card as part of their securing mechanism.  Insert card, close door, release key.  Yet I still need my phone to collect heart monitor stats or listen to music.  My identity therefore remains physical and virtual for the foreseeable future.

Workout facilities are a basic example of what’s going on here.  The more sophisticated virtual ID installations reside at the offices of large companies, where hundreds of employees pass through secure doors morning, noon, and night.  Forget “keycards” – how would you prefer to be ID’d in the year 2020? Facial recognition? Iris scan? Fingerprints?  Even those technologies seem dated with what’s being tested in the lab.  How about gait recognition (the way you walk)?  Or microchips – a grain of rice if you will – implanted gently between the thumb and forefinger?  Everyday security is about to advance to a whole new level.

My first couple of office jobs were environments too small to worry about real security.  The front desk attendant could greet every employee who stepped off the elevator by name.  But then I joined Hewlett-Packard (HP) – 50,000 humans worldwide – and even HP’s smallest offices demanded more than a casual glance at those passing through.  In the early years I had a simple name badge, to be clipped on the shirt and worn at all times.  Then I graduated to a photo ID card (w/ lanyard, as dress codes relaxed).  Finally, HP added magnetic stripes to the back of the cards, so we could self check-in the way you now self check-out at grocery stores.

The new identity technologies are rooted in biometrics: your sui generis body measurements and calculations.  With that in mind – and body – your ID is just the tip of the data iceberg.  As long as your heart rate, steps, and movement are measured, wouldn’t your employer want those data points as well?  It’s like having a giant Apple Watch lording over an entire workforce.  In theory your manager could use this information as a gauge of your “wellness” (i.e. stress), but more likely they’ll be interested in how it relates to your productivity.  They’ll also know where you are, when, and for how long, all the day long.

If microchip implants become the norm (something I wouldn’t have fathomed even a decade ago), the benefits are endless.  Swipe your hand at a conference room door for access/reservation.   Swipe your hand in front of the vending machine for a snack.  Check your resting heart rate.  On the other hand (ha), consider; the microchip is always watching, including your taps at the keyboard.  No message – even the one you deleted before sending – is safe from scrutiny.

When my wife and I joined our church last year, we were issued name badges. Wearing them is not so much an expression of membership as it is a convenience to greet fellow parishioners by name. But what if we start using biometrics someday?  Will my pastor know when I’m at church and when I’m not? More importantly, will He know? Ah, let’s be real; the Almighty doesn’t need an ID system.  He already knows when I’m in church and when I’m not.

Some content sourced from the 1/6/2020 Wall Street Journal article, “The Humble Office ID Badge Is About to Be Unrecognizable”.

4 thoughts on “Identity Crisis

    1. In the Methodist Church at least, our offering is deducted regularly straight out of our checking account (so it feels a little strange to pass the plate without contributing). Also, our church services are streamed real-time so you can watch from home. Not the same as being there in person; not even close 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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