Fingerprints, Trust, and Europcar

Last week on the way to an AstroGrid meeting in Cambridge I picked up a hire car at Stansted Airport and was asked for my fingerprint. Sorry. Correction. I was told I must give my fingerprint. No choice here. Apparently in an experimental scheme with Essex Police, ALL the hire car companies at Stansted were doing this; and Europcar have now rolled it out across the UK. I am surprised I haven’t heard more fuss. The BBC website discussed this back in November, and there has a small amount of blogging on it, e.g. here.

As usual on this kind of issue, I had two conflicting instincts. Thought-1 was “This is awful. The police state is creeping up on us. The People must rise up !”. Thought-2 was “Lets not be Canute here. Like Scott McNeally said, you have no privacy, get used to it.” Not sure which thought wins.

But internal curiosity welled up. Thought-3 was “Why is this so mentally confusing ? What’s really going on ?”. I suddenly remembered how back in the early 80s a Polish friend would explain that where she came from one person in every five was a policeman or police informer, and how this eroded society from the inside. Its about trust, and its about power. OK, so I am an innocent man, so I have “nothing to fear”. Giving my fingerprint is a good thing. This is clearly true as long as you trust the government. Well right now to be honest, by and large, I do. But if I was in the USA, I would be much more nervous.

But … why should I trust Europcar ??????

When I asked the right questions, they offered me the choice of blacking out my print when I returned the car. So I did. But this choice was not offered until I asked. And the pictures I see on the web suggest that most sites are automatically digitising the print rather than saving it on a piece of card, so this option has no safe meaning.

Maybe I should write to the CEO of Europcar and ask if he would please provide me his fingerprint for my records ? After all he is an innocent man, so he has nothing to fear. And I would promise to not doing anything with this information unless I suspected Europcar of a crime of some kind….

3 Responses to Fingerprints, Trust, and Europcar

  1. John says:

    Even if you trust the authorities Not To Be Evil, you still have to trust them not to be idiots. “So Professor ‘Fingers’ Lawrence, only one in a million people has the fingerprint markers that you have. We just found those same markers at the crime scene….so we’re 99.9999% sure you did it. You’re nicked!”

  2. Stuart says:

    Is this all part of the plan to build up a national database of both fingerprint and DNA details? We already take fingerprints and DNA samples from anyone arrested, whether they are guilty of a crime or not. There are apparently around 25,000 children (not guilty of crimes) on the national database. Getting people via rental cars seems like another way to build it up.

    But of course, we may be safe as long as there aren’t mistakes, ways to fool the system or hack it. Doesn’t sound too likely to me. The other issue is the number of people and type of people with access to the data. Sometimes people don’t need access to certain data and giving it to them can encourage misuse of that power. Not so much “if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to hide” as “if you’ve not upset anyone you’ve probably got nothing to worry about”.

    Apparently, in a few years all European national crime-fighting organisations will have access to these databases too. Mind you, once we have hundreds of millions of people on these databases, it will be interesting to see the statistics of the likelihood of fingerprint matches actually being to the correct people.

    Big Brother is already here.

  3. andyxl says:

    Stuart – although this happened last week, I just remembered it today as I heard a news story concerning a fightback on the DNA database thing – “prominent lawyers” arguing that people not convicted should be removed from the database, rather than adding everybody else to “make it fair” as was suggested a couple of weeks ago. The BBC story is here.

    John – of course now you are going to work for Google, you will have a different perspective on this. Soon you will know about me than Europcar does ..

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