Barry Kaufman | January 21, 2016 4:45 PM ET
Travelers Shouldn’t Have a Chip on Their Shoulders
We knew it was coming, sure as the sun was going to rise to find our smart phones within easy reach the next day.
We knew when we published the story yesterday about the guy in Stockholm who became the first to breeze through airport security thanks to an implanted ID that the response was going to be biblical. And sure enough, hellfire and brimstone rained down upon us the second the story went live.
It was a self-fulfilling prophecy, really. You look on YouTube for the original news broadcast, and what you’ll find first is a few hundred reaction videos comparing this new technology to the Mark of the Beast mentioned in the Book of Revelations. Of course people are going to look at something like this and see yet one more sign that the end is nigh. Like we need more of those at this point.
But I’m not here to talk about the biblical implications. People have been seeing the mark of the beast everywhere for generations, from UPC barcodes to credit cards. I’m here to talk about travel, and what we give up every day for convenience’s sake.
It was fairly deliberate that I mentioned smart phones in my lede. Every day, it’s the first thing we look at and usually it’s the last thing we check before drifting off to sleep. It’s with us always, keeping us from the torture that is waiting until we’re at a desk to check Facebook. It’s revolutionized how we interact with each other and the world, but make no mistake: all it really did was make everything we were already doing easier.
People talked on regular phones back in the day. They emailed each other pictures from home computers. They checked if their flight was delayed by looking slightly up at the departures board, and boarded the plane with a little slip of paper. They then used a small plastic card to check into their hotel room. Before that, metal keys. Just because it’s all done with our phone now doesn’t mean it was impossible before.
And what did we trade for the privilege of interacting with the world on easy mode? We carry around a GPS tracker with us every moment of the day. With the push of a button, interested parties with the right technology can know exactly where we are in the world at a moment’s notice. We barter our personal information for the chance to share funny cat videos. Everything about who we are becomes a commodity, supporting a massive industry revolving around buying and selling it.
And we’re all just… OK with this.
So what will we trade once it becomes common, even expected, that your entire identity will reside in a small lump of surgically implanted tech on your hand? Will we be OK with something in our own bodies that broadcasts our location, our personal data, our very identity, to whoever is listening?
Will we be OK with the processes that purport to keep us safe while traveling being subservient to the whims of new technology? Right now, you have to present a TSA agent, a human being, with identification and a boarding pass. They already scan your pass, giving the computer a chance to give you a digital thumbs up. But then – and this is the crucial part – a human being actually looks you in the eyes, looks at your ID, and confirms that one belongs to the other.
Who will perform that crucial second step when all there is between a plane full of vacationers and those who would do them harm is a cold, unfeeling RFID reader? It’s one machine reading another machine, trusting in that transfer of 1s and 0s explicitly.
If you believe the comments and the YouTube videos, we’re trading our immortal souls’ chance at salvation for mere convenience. That’s a question of faith. But what isn’t is the fact that we’re trading in what matters most in that path to the plane – we’re trading security.
And that's one thing we can’t afford to sacrifice on the altar of convenience.
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