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September 2nd, 2006 at 6:36 pm

Big Brother Alive and Well at Walt Disney World

Disney is now fingerprinting visitors to Walt Disney World as part of its ticket-fraud prevention scheme. They’re not being very transparent about it, either: there are no signs posted about the data collection or retention, and Disney’s official line is that they’re not collecting fingerprints, just "mathematical representations" of them.

However, those mathematical representations are exactly what you need if you want to join up two fingerprint databases, for instance, Disney’s and the NSA’s — while the NSA may store photos of fingerprints, they work with hashes of them, using those mathematical representations to compare and sort prints. Saying that you only store the mathematical representations of a fingerprint is like saying that you only store the mathematical representations of a JPEG, not the actual paint, canvas and frame that it depicts. It’s technically true, but it sure doesn’t mean that you haven’t captured something important.

Undeniably, the worst part of this is that it conditions us to get used to being treated like crooks. If you were asked for a fingerprint when you bought a candy bar, you’d rightly leave the store. Why should an amusement park somehow be any different?

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For years already, Disney has recorded onto tickets the geometry and shape of visitors’ fingers to prevent ticket fraud or resale, as an alternative to time-consuming photo identification checks. By the end of September, all of the geometry readers at Disney’s four Orlando theme parks, which attract tens of millions of visitors each year, will be replaced with machines that scan fingerprint information, according to industry experts familiar with the technology…

Not surprisingly, the use of this technology has riled privacy advocates, who believe Disney has not fully disclosed the purpose of its new system. There are no signs posted at the entrance detailing what information is being collected and how it is being used. Attendants at the entrance will explain the system, if asked.

Visitors who object to the readers can provide photo identification instead – although the option is not advertised at the park entrance…

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