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Biometrics in the Workplace 554

Posted by michael
from the gattaca dept.
ryth writes "The Globe and Mail reports that McDonald's Restaurants and a few other companies in Canada have introduced palm-scanning technologies for employees. Workers are now expected to 'sign' in and out using their palm prints to record the exact time of arrival and the identity of the employee. Quoted in the article Jorn Nordmann, president of S.M. Products, was blunt about why he installed a hand scanner at his fish-processing plant in Delta, B.C. 'If you want to control a whole bunch of people, it's the only way to go.' It seems that some of the most underpaid and undervalued workers are starting to be treated no better than the animals they are frying up." Except for the frying part.
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Biometrics in the Workplace

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  • Swipe Card (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BigDork1001 (683341) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @08:44AM (#7972098) Homepage
    While not as high-tech why not just stick with a punch card or swipe card. Sure you can get a few people who will punch in for someone every once and a while or something what's the big deal. This just sounds like a gigantic waste of money to me.
    • Re:Swipe Card (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Slick_Snake (693760) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @08:51AM (#7972151) Journal
      Sure you can get a few people who will punch in for someone every once and a while or something what's the big deal. This just sounds like a gigantic waste of money to me.

      Paying for employees time when they are not there is a waste of money too.

      The point is more about forcing the employees to be responcible and accountable. Just about everywhere I worked cared more about your atendance and puncuality than they did about any other aspect of our with. Its not like is any different that using punch cards other than the employees can't cheat the system.

    • Re:Swipe Card (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dummkopf (538393) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @08:51AM (#7972152) Homepage
      it's not just the swipe card, you also want to make sure that whoever swiped the card is the person on it. i think the idea is to check when people come and go and make sure cousin jake is not filling in for you while you have a cold...
    • Scanners are becoming cheaper, so it isn't the waste of money that it used to be. Depending on how many employees are tracked with a scanner instead of a punch-clock, it might be money well spent.
    • Because you can give your card to some other guy you work with, and he can swipe/punch you in. This is basicly a new way for bosses to express distrust of their workforce - or acknowledge that the jobs are so shitty, that people will try to skip out.
    • by Dilbert_ (17488) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @08:54AM (#7972172) Homepage
      I guess this also explains those 'Employees are expected to wash their hands after using the lavatory' signs then ;-)
    • Re:Swipe Card (Score:2, Interesting)

      by McLuke (603959)
      I used to work at a McDonalds in a regional area of Victoria, Australia, and even we had electronic clock in/out computers, where you entered and assigned code so they could record and pay you to the exact amount of minutes you worked.
    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @09:12AM (#7972281)
      We have swipe card doors at work. It's nice since it's much more convienent than carrying 50 different keys around since it seems like every lock is keyed differently.

      However, just like with keys, and even more frequently, people forget their card. I have a cube near the door to our room and I'm ALWAYS getting up to let someone in that forgot their card. No big deal, since it's just door access. Someone else can let them in or they can borrow a card. Bigger deal if it is needed to clock in, means they have to go back home.

      Personally, I'd really like to see biometrics more. It'd just hard to loose. For high security areas/things you need other authentication, of course (like a passocde and/or keycard) in addtion but for most things a simple print is good enough. I've lost my wallet, I've lost my keys, but I've never lost my hand.
      • The thing that bugs me is the dipshits whom you *don't* know who apparently forget their keycards and hover around the door waiting to sneak in behind someone else. Friends and spouses of employees do this all the time. What's the point of having a keycarded door if not only do people let others in but people can expect to be let in eventually?

        If not a biometric device, there could be a real person sitting at every entrance to help eliminate this nonsense. Of course you'd have to pay them enough to en
    • It can be profitable (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Ich Bin Zu (737102) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @09:12AM (#7972286) Homepage
      We installed a fingerscanning device a couple of years ago for signing in and out of work. The system works by allowing a person to be late at for work or going out early for up to 7 hours per month. After that, we penalize their salary for every extra minute after the 7 hours. Since then, we have covered the cost of the devices from all the salary penalities.
    • The issue (Score:5, Interesting)

      by FreeLinux (555387) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @10:18AM (#7972820)
      The issue with swipe cards, that palm scanners eliminates, is that people often find ways to cheat the system. Certain individuals will get their friends to swipe or clock them in before their arrival at work. This was a very common problem with time clocks where someone would be late for work and they would call and have a coworker clock them in on-time even though the person didn't actually show up for work until an hour later. That's theft. This system prevents that possibillity as they cannot easily fake the palm scan. This saves the company a lot of money that it would otherwise be defrauded of.

      I am aware of a very large produce packing company in south Florida that installed a similar system several years ago for tracking employee hours for the mostly migrant pickers and packagers. Prior to this system it was not uncommon for a quarter of the staff to not show up for work at all yet, still collect a paycheck for a full week's work. The companies facilities are very low tech overall, due to the nature of their business so, it was very surprising to see such a high tech time clock there.

      In this particular case they used a number of hand scanners that measured the geometry of the persons hand for biometric identification. The company also found that the process of clocking in and out was much faster with this system as it illiminated the search for the time card on the wall and the examination of the timecard after it was punched. With the hand scanner the worker simply placed their hand on the scanner and when the light turned green it meant that they had successfully been identified and they moved on. Instead of taking one or more minutes for an individual to clock in, it now takes less than 15 seconds. This adds up when you start talking about crews in the hundreds.

    • Re:Swipe Card (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mc6809e (214243) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @10:45AM (#7973119)
      While not as high-tech why not just stick with a punch card or swipe card. Sure you can get a few people who will punch in for someone every once and a while or something what's the big deal. This just sounds like a gigantic waste of money to me.

      The math is simple enought even for the dumbest of business people. He only needs to ask whether or not the money spent on this device is less than or greater than the money stolen from him.

      I think the fact that he's willing to spend so much money on such a device suggests that the incidence of theft is much greater than you think.

      I also want to say that it's disturbing that you take lightly dishonesty. Things like morality and ethics aren't just stupid games philosophers play. What people believe is right and wrong has a real, though indirect impact on society. It ultimately come back to you, although for most people it's difficult to see.

      This very story is about some of those more obvious impacts. The owner can't trust his employees to do the right thing, so energy and resources must be wasted on this device -- energy and resources that could have gone elsewhere and put to more productive use. He's unhappy and the employees are unhappy.

      Ultimately, a proper moral code tries to guide people to make good decisions that lead us generally away from such economically wasteful and socially unhappy situations a this. I don't think it's too far off to suggest that dishonesty and theft are not part of such a moral code.

  • by hplasm (576983) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @08:44AM (#7972099) Journal
    'If you want to control a whole bunch of people, it's the only way to go.'

    Coming soon to a population center near you...

  • Better make sure... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by xSquaredAdmin (725927) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @08:44AM (#7972100)
    that people wash their hands before coming to work, because if everyone is putting their hand on the scanner, there could definitely be some health issues.
  • huh? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by selacious (101257) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @08:44AM (#7972102)
    Check me if I'm wrong Sammy, but I don't see how making employees sign in and out is all that terrible. Would it make people feel better if these employees pushed a button to sign in instead of having their palms scanned?
    • Re:huh? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by pubjames (468013)
      Check me if I'm wrong Sammy, but I don't see how making employees sign in and out is all that terrible. Would it make people feel better if these employees pushed a button to sign in instead of having their palms scanned?

      Yes, I'm an employer and I think you're absolutely right. You can't trust people to do the right thing, so must treat them like children or animals.

      They should have pay docked by the minute if they're late. Of course if they're a early that time doesn't count, and of course if at the en
      • Re:huh? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Zigg (64962)

        Interesting. At my workplace, we don't use obscenely hyperbolic arguments to attempt to defend against completely reasonable points.

    • No kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @09:07AM (#7972251)
      At a couple jobs I've worked I was expected to punch in and out. When I arrived, I took a card and put it in a stamper, same whenever I left. Was used to track my hours. Seems like a perfectly reasonable request by an employer, that they might want to know what hours you worked.

      However time card have problems. They are easily damaged, since they are just paper. Also it is possible to get confused, and grab the wrong card, I did that on one occasion. However more important to an employer, another employee could punch a friend in, making it appear as if they were there.

      This eliminates problems and just streamlines everything. You scan you plam, it knows you are you and clocks you in. Scan again to clock out. No confusion and no practical way to fake it.

      This in no way limits your privacy your rights or anything else. You employer has a right to know when you are working for them. And guess what? If the system is lax, people will abuse it. Like now I work at a university and all hourly positions (which is only student positions really) simply fill out a timebook once a week, which is then signed by their supervisor. So what happens? You guessed it, people cheat. A student will show up to work 15 minutes late, take a long lunch, and slip out 30 minutes eairly yet still report a full work day.

      It works the other way too. Makes it much harder for a company to screw you. Say you need to work late. They decide they don't want to pay you for that time to try to claim you weren't there. Hard for them to say if there is a palm scan record of you leaving. Much easier to say if there is no record, or just a punch card.
      • Re:No kidding (Score:5, Interesting)

        by front (159719) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @10:33AM (#7972990)
        "Makes it much harder for a company to screw you."

        Are you that naive? Palm scanning, or other high-tech "people control" equipment, is brought into a company to benefit the employer mainly and the employee hardly. It is done to keep salary costs low... which benefits the employer mainly.

        Clock cards are all well and good. I used one when I was younger and working in a printing factory for a few months. However I sure would not have wanted my employer to have a scan of my hand... fingerprints or palmprints. Why? Well who is going to oversee the records and make sure that they are not handed out to anyone who wants a copy?

        Companies have enough info on their staff already... might as well throw in a voiceprint too and the unscrupulous will have a ready made set of IDs.

        "Makes it much harder for a company to screw you." is what you said... yet in the article Colin Bennett, a politics professor at the University of Victoria, was quoted as saying "The employees would have little recourse if their information was misused."

        Don't try to find the silver lining in that cloud mate.

        cheers

        front
        • Re:No kidding (Score:3, Insightful)

          by rizzo420 (136707)
          how do you misuse a palm-print? i think the use of the social security number as a student ID number by like 90% of american universities is a much larger security/personal-privacy issue than using biometrics to clock in and out. the palm print system is the best way for an employer to make sure his employees aren't cheating the system. i happen to be one of those university supervisors who manages a staff of students and they just fill out their own time sheets. easy to cheat. i also worked at a unive
    • by SuperBanana (662181) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @09:17AM (#7972320)
      Check me if I'm wrong Sammy, but I don't see how making employees sign in and out is all that terrible.

      ...especially since the #1 problem with timecards, according to a friend who manages a small manufacturing business, is that employees regularly clock each other in/out as favors.

      So lets get this straight- it prevents theft and reduces peer pressure("Hey bob, clock me in early tomorrow, will ya? The kid needs new braces.") It involves absolutely nothing intrusive(I fail to see how storing the dimensions of your hand is intrusive) and is merely an improvement on a system that's been in use for almost a CENTURY.

      What's the problem here? That biometrics are evil?

  • No big changes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Oculus Habent (562837) * <oculus...habent@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @08:45AM (#7972104) Journal
    This is old business with a new timecard. Some businesses (people, really) watch the one- and two-minute differences with no forgiveness.

    Is it so significant that a palm scanner is being used now? It prevents deception - it's unlikely you'll cut off a hand for your friend to clock you in early. Other than that, it means you can't lose your timecard (major accidents excepted). Oh, and you might want to wash your hands more...
    • In some of those fish-processing plants the loss of a hand is more common than you know. The working conditions these people put up with is just terrible. It's very much like the horror stories you hear about the rest of the meat packing industry.
      • In some of those fish-processing plants the loss of a hand is more common than you know. The working conditions these people put up with is just terrible. It's very much like the horror stories you hear about the rest of the meat packing industry.
        Aaaah! This is why that Big Mac I ate the other day tasted funny...
    • This is old business with a new timecard. Some businesses (people, really) watch the one- and two-minute differences with no forgiveness.

      I work for a major defense contractor, and we've had a badge-in/badge-out system for years now. Every morning you gotta put your badge up to a scanner, the computer checks your badge ID, logs the time, and the turnstile lets you in. Of course, I usually pray that something goes wrong and it doesn't let me in so that I can go home and take a nap, but so far that hasn't
  • by tobybuk (633332) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @08:46AM (#7972112)
    Talking call centers which I know a bit about, it always seems to be the case that the lower you pay someone the more control the employer wants over them.

    • That's because people who earn lower income are typically more likely to steal.
    • Makes sense (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770)
      For many reasons:

      1) Lower pay jobs tend to be hourly. Well if employers are paying by the hour, they want to maje sure they get what they pay for. Likewise by the hour jobs generally include OT pay, which they don't want to pay if they can avoid it. Higher pay jobs are more often salaried so it doesn't matter as much. Sure you may come into work 15 minutes late but you also may be asked to work all weekend at no extra pay.

      2) Lower pay jobs tend to be more time oriented, less results oriented. Like McDonal

    • Makes sense to me. Generally, the people at the lowest pay fall into three categories:

      1. Students trying to pick up a bit of cash on the side.
      2. Retirees who want to keep busy.
      3. People who couldn't get a better job.

      It is categories 1 and 3 that need watching. Category 1 because they are "above" the job and probably not too worried about getting fired (and hence more likely to risk putting a millipede in your Big Mac), and category 3 because these are people who cannot follow instructions reliably (and
    • by Afty0r (263037) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @10:39AM (#7973048) Homepage
      Talking call centers which I know a bit about, it always seems to be the case that the lower you pay someone the more control the employer wants over them.

      While what you say is true, the truth is more obvious the other way around:
      The less your employers NEED to control you, the more you will get paid
      In other words, honest, hard working, exemplary and talented individuals get paid more.
  • by MrRTFM (740877) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @08:46AM (#7972115) Journal
    ... or a nosy receptionist.

    What am I missing here - they are paying for labour, so why shouldn't they make sure people start on time?

    • It depends how they use this information. Will someone be sacked for being 1 min late three times in a week (fairly trite example I know), and what the next controls placed on employees are. When you see something like this you know there is more in the pipeline.

      I expect my employer to get value for my salary but given that I like many others work more hours that I get paid for I will not tolerate micromanagent of my workday by my employer.
      • Well, maybe they do put controls that tight on arrival times. For some jobs, there is a reason. I was a surveyor's assistant and, really, I needed to be on time to within 5 minutes. It could really screw shit up if you didn't get in, get prepped and get out to a job site on time. You WOULD get canned for chronic lateness, not because the boss was a jerk but because it would screw things up and potentially cost the company money.

        Now if some place gets over zealous with this, they'll simply find themselves u
  • by sam0ht (46606) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @08:46AM (#7972116)

    When your employer is paying for your time, they have a right to measure how much of it they are getting. Just like you have a right to put that bag of sugar on the scales and check that it really is 1kg.

    Seems reasonable enough to me, anyway.
  • What is the submitter whining about? Palm print authentication? How is that any different than a old-fashioned timeclock, other than the fact that it virtually removes the possibility of fraudulent time charging?

    Biometrics is not necessarily equivalent to privacy invasion.
    • I agree with the submitter in spirit, why is it that the lowest payed workers are the ones that need such accurate, high security time clocks? I could understand incorporating such system at say Pfizer, or some other huge company that has very real security concerns regarding product information. But worrying if a minimum wage fry cook is stiffing you for a few minuets clocking in late for a shift? Doesn't this seem a little goofy to you? How much do these people even make per hour? I bet a lot less than wh
      • I agree with the submitter in spirit, why is it that the lowest payed workers are the ones that need such accurate, high security time clocks?

        Because they tend to be working in larger numbers and the companies they work for typcially have smaller margins. Also, with customer service companies, when Chuck the fry cook decides to leave an hour early and have Molly punch him out, it could lead to soggy fries and unhappy customers.

        Do you have enough of an understanding of these companies and their balan
  • i want to see that scanner in mcdonalds after about a month of employees slapping their greasy palm on the scanner. will it still work then?
  • Canadian law? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tuxette (731067) * <tuxette.gmail@com> on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @08:49AM (#7972136) Homepage Journal
    I'm not very familiar with the new Canadian privacy law, but the article seems to imply that the protection of an individual's personal data only applies to the individual as a consumer, not the individual as an employee. It also implies that as an employee, your personal data can, in some instances, be used for other purposes than the original purpose for its collection. (Any Canadian privacy experts out there who can enlighten me and the rest of us?)

    If what I assume is correct, there is no reason for McDonalds to not use the hand/fingerprint data in some other way, if they wanted to, for example checking for criminal records, as mentioned in the article. They say they won't use the data for anything else, but they have also said their food is healthy. Would employees have the right to be informed if McDonalds suddenly used the hand/fingerprint data for something other than clocking in and out? Plus, it is not impossible for this data to be stolen and then abused. Who would then be responsible, under Canadian law? If employees have weaker protection under the law, does this mean that employers aren't required to secure the personal data of its employees the same way an e-tailer is required to the secure personal data of its customers?

    Another problem is what happens when this technology becomes mainstream, and used in most workplaces. It is understandably used in workplaces where security is an issue, and for now it's only McDonalds and a handful of other places that do not have the same security concerns as say, a nuclear power plant. The more use, the more potential for abuse. Workers need to have their rights secured before these devices are used. I just hope Manitoba (and the other provinces lacking strong provincial privacy legislation) wake up and create new laws to protect the people!

    • Re:Canadian law? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by glesga_kiss (596639)
      I'm not very familiar with the new Canadian privacy law, but the article seems to imply that the protection of an individual's personal data only applies to the individual as a consumer, not the individual as an employee

      Fortunately, the UK's Data Protection Act doesn't differentiate between the two. You can look up any employer and see exactly what they claim to store.

      (With "claim" beinging the operative world here!! I live in the real world)

      PS, fingerprint scanners are common-as-muck in Glasgow pubs.

  • then what's the problem?
    It's highly unlikely they're making full palmprint data available to any shadowy organisations, rather than simply using a hash of the data to authenticate users. It's a non-issue.
  • This is bad news for workers in the service industry, since McDs always leads the technological way, and sets the de facto working standards. Moreover, let's not forget that McDs is not above snooping; for instance, they infiltrated the London branch of Greenpeace from 1989-1991 (they actually employed two competing detective agencies!).
  • Is it THAT bad? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by The-Bus (138060) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @08:52AM (#7972160)
    His 50 employees would often "buddy-punch," meaning that they would punch the time clock for people who had not shown up. "They're typical workers," Mr. Nordmann said. "It's not nice work. You have a lot of turnover. You have them one week, and the next week they're gone. You can't tell the faces any more."


    This is a completely valid viewpoint. My main question is how is this an invasion of privacy? I wouldn't have a problem scanning in my hand to check in to work -- but it seems that a lot of people do. I guess letting companies having biometric information could be the beginning of a long and slippery slope, but I can't really see a worst case scenario... someone care to visualize it for me?

    In other news, this would meet a lot greater resistance if McDonald's allowed its workers to form unions. The restaurants have some of the worst turnover because the working conditions are abismal and the company squashes any attempts at its workers to form unions. More information can be found in the book Fast Food Nation [amazon.com] which I definitely recommend as a good read -- it goes into worker treatment at both fast food restaurants as well as meat packing plants and the entire fast food industry as a whole, from advertising to production to health issues. I recommend as a read although be warned, you may not want to go back to McDonald's again. I haven't gone back. But that's because their food tastes like crap.
    • Re:Is it THAT bad? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by tuxette (731067) *
      My main question is how is this an invasion of privacy? I wouldn't have a problem scanning in my hand to check in to work -- but it seems that a lot of people do. I guess letting companies having biometric information could be the beginning of a long and slippery slope, but I can't really see a worst case scenario... someone care to visualize it for me?

      I am one of those who would have a big problem with scanning into work with my palm, fingers, eyeballs, or whatever, unless I worked at a military installa

    • I guess letting companies having biometric information could be the beginning of a long and slippery slope, but I can't really see a worst case scenario... someone care to visualize it for me?

      The scene in "Minority Report" where Tom Cruise was getting bombarded with personalised advertising as a result of a retina scan? It might be OK if you've just bought a shiny new Lexus, but it's not so OK if you've just bought a "marital aid"...

    • I guess letting companies having biometric information could be the beginning of a long and slippery slope, but I can't really see a worst case scenario... someone care to visualize it for me?
      Ok, since you asked, REALLY worst case scenario... [marshallbrain.com] ;-)
  • by Moderation abuser (184013) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @08:57AM (#7972184)
    And swipe access to some of the internal doors. If you haven't swiped in at the entrance you can't get through the internal doors, it's a kind of login system. It may well be used for time monitoring but it's main purpose is security, they also use it to produce a checklist of employees who are in the building in the event of a disaster like a fire.

    • We have found that method to be unrealiable. Too many people tailgate others into and out of the building.

      There has even been an incident of two people cramming into a revolving door so that one person (me) could get a discounted lunch.
  • by Baavgai (598847) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @09:00AM (#7972210) Homepage
    I'm not sure what issue taken with this is. Everyone who works a regular job is expected to show up on time and stay the duration of the day. Many jobs have some kind of time card system in place to help monitor this. That the system is more automated and exact would only be of concern to those who wish to cheat the system.

    I work for a public utility. We had the hand punch system years ago. ( I always threatened to make a rubber hand, but never got around to it. ) Now we have the finger print reader instead. Overall, it tends to help both sides, since employees can often prove they were on site even if their supervisors weren't sure.

    As a side note, biometric data can leak. Our finger print database is intentionally stored at a slightly lower resolution than the federal standard. The reason is that if we kept government quality information, we'd be required to surrender a copy of that information to the government. Now that's scary.
  • Wrong approach (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BenjyD (316700) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @09:02AM (#7972222)

    His 50 employees would often "buddy-punch," ... "They're typical workers," Mr. Nordmann said. "It's not nice work. You have a lot of turnover. You have them one week, and the next week they're gone. You can't tell the faces any more."

    What a wonderful view of workers. Sort of Victorian workhouse style. He could always try treating his staff well enough that they don't cheat the system or quit all the time.

    • You sir have never worked in an houry wage, hard labor, type job, have you?

      I do during the summers, when I'm home from school.
      Let me tell you, it is next to impossible to find GOOD work. Most people you find are either lazy and slackers and don't pull their share of work at all, or they call in sick every other day.

      I worked at a Large Landscaping company, and new employees would be trusted driving delivery trucks. My first day, when I was 16, they sent me to the other side of town to drop some mulch off a
  • Fried Fish Workers.

  • We've had a palm-reading system for four years now, and once some people's initial concerns about being finger-printed were relieved (which isn't what's happening, at our place or at McDonald's), no one cared. There's no invasion of privacy in making sure that it's you who are punching in.
  • I don't see the fuss, where I work, a supermarket in Australia, they scan your right index finger when you have to sign in or out, it only takes a second to do and no-one can cheat it.

    Now if they gave these file to the government then I'd be pissed off. But they haven't done that yet.
    I'd love to see laws preventing that from happening by the way. Of course all someone will have to do to stop it is scream "Terrorists!" and it'll die in the arse.
    But I seriously don't see why people are complaining, its not t
  • by 1024x768 (113033) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @09:13AM (#7972288)
    Learned this from a /. post a long time ago and it has guided me in our company's quest for a 2nd factor of authentication. We don't all have the same body parts and a biometric solution needs to work for 100% of the users.
  • Firsthand Experience (Score:4, Interesting)

    by N8F8 (4562) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @09:14AM (#7972296)
    It wan't biometrics but it wasa so-called "smart card". In the early 90's I was stationed aboard the USS Enterprise when the Navy decided to test a smartcard system. A small strip on your ID card contained identifying information. We were required to swipe as we came and left the worplace. Afer the first month big brother handed our reports by division what the average hours spent per week wer. Afterthe second month they were identifying to the workcenter level. Before it got to the per-person level the system came to an abrupt end. I'm pretty sure some phonecalls to elected officials got the program sidelined. You really don't know how little you matter to your employer till they consider you litte more than a tiny statistic.
  • My major concern in these rigid employee control devices is not so much a privacy invasion, as a reduction in trust and spontaneity. If people don't feel like they can cheat or bend the system a little (sneak in late, take an extra 15 min on lunch), they focus alot more on how much work controls their life.

    A little workplace entropy distracts from the oppressive order of day to day work.
  • Its obvious that there are lots of folks here who have never had to lead a team of people to do anything, much less work. Not that I am holding up McD's as a paragon of virtue (they aren't) but this is about as sinister as when a former neigbor of mine let me know that the US Post Office changes the stamps in circulation as part of a world wide code to communicate with the angels living here on earth. :-)

    In any environment where you have high turn over finding a way to track workers is critical, especially in low margin businesses like fast food. Business implements changes out of (hopefully intelligent) self interest, not part some conspiracy to "control" workers. Now, do there need to be safeguards in place to make sure corporations don't share biometrics as well as other personal data, absolutely. However, American corporations are so afraid of being sued most only confirm employement dates of former employees, rather than telling the truth, even when the former employee deserves a negative review. So I find it hard to imagine the circumstance where some minimum wage worker's handprint is so valuable that a corporation is willing to part with the data, and take the risk of a high profile lawsuit. The only real exception to this is of course, the government. There is a potential for abuse there, and if I were a potential employee I would like to know what the employer's policy on information requests from law enforcement looks like, ie do they require a subpoena etc. Also how long will the company keep the information would be something I would ask.
  • If I were to copyright the unique prints on my hands and then could I charge the company for keeping a copy of my copyright in their database or refuse to let them use it ?
  • If you are complaining about the treatment of this "type" of worker, then do something about it. Start your own utopian company and trust everyone implicitly. Take bets on how long it takes your company to go out of business. Or, send some of your own money to a new charity that supports people with shitty jobs if you are working at a better-paying job. In countries that actually have a minimum wage, why aren't you fighting for the plight of the laborer by trying to get more frequent and larger raises i
  • by fuzzybunny (112938) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @09:32AM (#7972422) Homepage Journal
    I've peripherally dealt with a few biometric identification systems deployments, and there are three major factors to consider:

    -False positives (%)
    -False negatives (%)
    -Acceptance

    The first two are objectively measurable over time. The latter covers peoples' reluctance to, say, put a DNA probe in their mouth, or put their eye to a retinal scanner for fear of catching pinkeye, or whatnot.

    Biometrics themselves can be used to _identify_ someone, but relying on them as a catch-all solution to _authenticate_ is lame (authentication is performed by a combination of what you know, what you have, or what you are--think ATM card + PIN code.) Biometric systems are, under certain circumstances, a good complement to another ID mechanism, no different, for example, than using a GSM card for your mobile phone.

    That said, I don't like biometric systems for something like timesheet checking. Aside from the fact that it's undignified and ham-handed (looks great on powerpoint!) there is the danger of non-repudiation in the case of a false positive. Most technical types understand this concet, but do you really think your average manager will believe Joe Frycook that he was present, if for some reason the handprint scanner had a glitch?

    The other thing I take issue with is the possibility of a leak or misuse of sensitive data. A time card or ID is a physical object, usually limited to a specific use. However, if an employer has, say, a perfect thumbprint scan of mine, what's stopping him from sharing it? From using it in other, less legitimate areas (hiring a private security firm to check my laptop to see if I'm letting my girlfriend use it, whatever.) Sound paranoid?

    It bugs me to see responses along the lines of "if you've nothing to hide, why are you concerned?" I'm concerned because, first, I'm a bit of a naive idealist and believe that people should be treated like human beings, not innately distrusted. And second, I've seen some fairly catastrophic examples of what can go wrong with any technology.

    That said, there's a sociological theory that every human being has an innate tendency to want to sabotage authority in some small way--riding the bus without a ticket, cheating on their taxes, etc. My own insignificant little tactics involve trying to make factor #3, acceptance, lower for biometric ID systems--sneeze on eyeball scanners, smear boogers on hand readers, stick gum on camera lenses, whatever.

    A few years ago, some German state had to hire private security guards to watch speed cameras, because the locals were taking shotguns to 'em. Cost them a lot of money, and sent a bit of a signal. I'm no anarchist, but occasionally the yay-biometrics mob could use a bit of the same medicine.

    • The fingerprint/handprint systems I've seen do not store a scan of your finger. They store the junctions where lines come together as a sort of constellation. As such they are similar to a cryptographic hash, and are really not useful for anything other than identifying your hand/finger/what have you.
  • by Chanc_Gorkon (94133) <gorkon@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @09:41AM (#7972523)
    First off, your employer has a right to track your hours. This is a good thing so long as they don't start nickel, diming and whining when your a minute or two late. Biometrics would also be a good thing when combined with your credit card. Pretty hard to fake a handprint or thumbprint. Biometrics could also prevent us sysadmins from constantly resetting passwords. If we used a thumbprint for the pasword, it would be hard to duplicate and hard for users sharing signons (my biggest beef now).

    BTW, Fast food isn't the only place the beef about being a minute or two late. I once worked for Meijer, a family owned chain of gorcery/superstores and they would chew you out whenever your one minute late into or out of work, breaks and lunches. I don't know if tehy stil do this, but when I worked, Meijer had a saying...the run for 1. They wanted to have only 1 percent overhead. That meant you sold a lot of damaged goods (at a SLIGHLTLY reduced price) as long as the packaging wasn't mangled too bad. I thought it was nuts and eventually they did drop it realizing it was impossible to do this. Nickel and diming employees regarding their time is just counterproductive and will result in you loosing a employee who may have just had a bad commute or a bad morning wrestling with the kids and is normally on time and a very good worker. I ain't saying you should not punish repeat offenders or even defining a standard, but if someone is late say once in 3 months, I think that is pretty good! Another thing that could be done is for every minute your late, you stay over that many minutes. Also, use overlapping schedules. If you schedule so tight that you can't afford to have people that are late, that's YOUR problem, not your employee's.
  • I saw a fingerprint ID system in use 2 years ago at a clothing store distribution warehouse in Los Angeles. The employees used it to clock-in and clock-out of work, and it was put in place to avoid friends punching in and out for each other.

    One thing these new systems do offer you is a rock solid alibi (sp?). It definitely proves where you were at that time. As for privacy concerns... well, you were supposed to be at work anyway, right? Is the company getting any extra information by collecting your ti
  • "Workers are now expected to 'sign' in and out using their palm prints to record the exact time of arrival and the identity of the employee."

    "punch me in" is a common request when there are time cards or swipe cards. If the swipe card is needed for access you just have your buddy open the door when you get there.

    The entity that gets in trouble when this happens is usually the employer, because laws require them to "maintain accurate records" of work hours. The palm print prevents "clock me in" unless

  • by gillbates (106458) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @09:43AM (#7972546) Homepage Journal

    IIRC, a law was recently passed which allows the FBI to collect a business' records without a subpeona. Which means that if your employer has your fingerprints, so does the FBI.

    Someone could very easily lose their anonymity by simply working for the wrong employer. The Burlington Northern example is a case in point - IIRC, employees were forced to undergo mandatory genetic testing; those with a genetic tendency toward carpal tunnel syndrome were fired. Now the FBI has access to the genetic information for every one of BN's employees who was tested.

    To be honest, the confidentiality promises a company makes mean nothing. Every company has a disclaimer stating that they will divulge information to comply with law enforcement and some (such as Ebay) make it a point to market this service to law enforcement.

    Our lives are no longer private. If it is in a company database somewhere, the FBI now has access to it. The only safe option is to not turn over information you don't want the government to have to anyone, for any reason.

  • and who they are?!

    OMG!!! PRIVACY!!! BIG BROTHER!!! CALL THE UCLA!!

    It's called a timeclock, dumbass. We've got one at work, although I don't use my palm, I use a userID and password. Why? I'm PAID HOURLY. Think my boss is gonna let us tell him "yeah, we all worked 8 hours today" without some sort of proof?
  • by fille (575662)
    I remember that a Belgian athlete (judo) could not enter the Olympic village at the Atlanta (?) games because he had injured his hand and it was swollen. The palm recognition thing refused to grant him access.. :-(
  • Don't be so quick.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Raven42rac (448205) * on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @10:01AM (#7972682)
    Don't be so quick to jump the gun on this one. Expecting people to be honest is somehow less than human? What about the honest guys who see everyone else ripping off the system, while he has a clear conscience? This will only validate those of us in society who play by the rules, and hopefully stop those who do break the rules. The only problem I would have with such a system would be if it linked up to government databases, or something like that. I would not be surprised given "security" companies' stances lately of profits over privacy. This practice would also, inadvertantly, be able to defeat fraud by management, like cutting people's hours. Most of the time, technology should not be needed, because all you need to do is have communication in place between all members of management. Example "why is Joe-Bob still clocked in?" "he shouldn't be, he left at noon".
  • by jfulcher (265157) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @10:23AM (#7972868)
    I am in the time and attendance field. My company sells and I setup biometric clocks along with regular clocks. The hand recognition clock we use is made by a company called recognition systems. You people are too damned paranoid. This system, nor the thumb one we use does NOT take your handprint, or thumbprint. You can really tell if you actually look at the handpunch device. The bottom that you are placing your palm on is an optical reflecting surface (just like the old optical mice). It has these little pegs on the inside and it measures the thickness of your fingers and the length. The thumb system that measures the thickness of the ridges and amount of ridges in your thumb and just record that. It does NOT store your fingerprints, nor does the prior store a handprint. You guys need to RESEARCH what you are complaining about before you complain about it. And this was a poor job of research by the journalist that wrote this article. But they have an excuse, they are uninformed liberals, and definitley not in the technical field to even understand how technical things work. Most of you guys are in the technical field.
  • by nblender (741424) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @10:55AM (#7973197)
    ...for a company not doing very well. I am the lowest paid employee at my company. ie: all of my employees get paid more than I do. The company has no profits. Sometimes I don't even get a paycheck. Sometimes part of payroll gets put on my personal VISA. Welcome to owning your own business. Imagine how you'd feel in this position, to discover that some of your employees were taking advantage of the situation, by not showing up and getting someone else to clock in? I have an employee who habitually shows up an hour late, takes 2 hour lunches, and leaves when the clock strikes 5:00. Yet complains when his cow-orker, who does the same work, gets paid more. Yeah, I love most of my employees. They do terrific work and I pay them as much as I can afford. But I'd implement whatever I could to keep them in line if they were taking advantage of me.
  • Undervalued?!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gosand (234100) on Wednesday January 14, 2004 @02:13PM (#7975485)
    It seems that some of the most underpaid and undervalued workers are starting to be treated no better than the animals they are frying up.

    I thought this story was about fast-food workers, not teachers. Since when are these people underpaid and undervalued? They may not make very much money, and they may have to work a lot of hours and do mundane tasks, but what VALUE do they really offer to society? Not that they don't deserve respect for the job they perform, but they would not be anywhere in the top 100 undervalued workers. Not every job has the same value in our society. Our society rewards some pretty ridiculous jobs in our society, and rewards some only a fraction of their true value, but fast food workers are not one of those.

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