Am I the only one that is increasingly worried about the uncontrolled use of DNA as a biometric identifier for security devices and log-on routines? These are being introduced as part of the next development in tablets and mobile phones like the iPhone.
It all started five years ago in the USA when Yale, one of the world’s leading lock-makers, started experimenting with a kind of spittoon attached to a DNA analyser and one of its advanced electronic industrial locks. If the DNA analyser matched a sample with that of someone in a list of authorised staff, then the current circulating around coils of a lock’s solenoids was interrupted for 60 seconds; the result was that the induced magnetic field collapsed and the lock (a thick iron bar) disengaged. The authorised member of staff could then enter the secure room.
All one merely needed to do was to provide a sample of saliva into the receptacle (presumably like modern-day footballers do all the time on TV) and the DNA analyser did the rest. Yale discovered that the procedure did not need much in the way of staff training and negated the need to share physical keys, or worry about lost keys; the DNA analysis did it all. Audit trails were kept and, as a security measure, the saliva sample was immediately de-natured so it could not be re-used.
This approach can hardly be described as being “aesthetic”. Indeed when Yale started its marketing these locks, it often fell foul of anti-spitting legislation enshrined in many USA State laws. However, in those redneck-USA States where tobacco chewing (and the consequence of such chewing) is accepted as part of normal behaviour and culture, sales of Yale’s DNA locking device boomed.
As with most things in the USA, individual freedom soon became an issue. For instance, when New York and several major cities throughout America enacted anti-spitting legislation, some left-wing Marxists intellectuals argued that the use of legislation was designed to oppress the working class (which was made up the majority of individuals who indulged in tobacco chewing). Libertarians on the far right came in to support this view; however, they argued that it was unnecessary to use the law and that the coercive arm of the state was being used to impose social order on society.
Anyway, despite the fuss, I have discovered that Google and Apple have decided to do something similar. But to avoid problems encountered by Yale, users will merely need to lick the screen just after switching the device on.
For instance, the next Google tablet under design (Nexus 9) is going to have an area on the Tablet where the user licks; this area (approximately measuring a square inch) is known by Google insiders as “the Goobar”. The Goobar links to a DNA analyser which will then provide user log-on and password functionality, all in one.
The idea is a simple one. When the user first powers up the Nexus, the user will be presented with a drop-down menu which identifies a spot located at the centre of the Goobar (this spot is known as the “lickspot”). Once the user has licked the screen, the DNA is analysed. The user can then choose a colour for his “lickspot” (e.g. primary and secondary colours such as pink, yellow and blue). Each colour is linked to a flavour – for example, pink is strawberry or yellow is lemon. This mechanism is repeated if the Nexus is to be shared with other authorised users.
The flavour plays a role. For instance, in a Press Statement, Richard Salgado, Legal Director, Law Enforcement and Information Security at Google says: “the flavour is very important to identify if someone else has tried to use the device”. Salgado then explains “if the lick on the Goobar is that of an unauthorised user, the flavour all lickspots defaults to ‘Marmite’; this means that the next authorised user will know that when he licks the Goobar that someone has previously made an unauthorised log-on attempt".
Salgado then explains: "We also ensure the device keeps the DNA of unauthorised lickers; this will provide evidence should the authorities want to pursue an offence under, for example, the Computer Misuse Act”.
Salgado also explained that “at Google, we have experimented with flavours which deter pets from licking the device; we discovered, for instance, that the lavender flavour attracted cats whilst Bovril was favoured by dogs. We wanted to avoid users accessing the lickspot unwittingly after their pets”.
What can I say to this? Thank heavens the Data Protection Regulation has biometrics as an example of sensitive personal data; this should protect us from providing DNA samples unnecessarily.
Yale’s RFID locks http://www.yalecommercial.com/overview.cfm?Item=1326
Google’s press releases: https://www.google.co.uk/press/