REPLACING CREDIT CARDS AT RETAIL STORES
August 02, 2006
By Michael Y. Park
When students living in Berkeley, Calif.,
crave a chicken burrito with an extra heaping of guacamole at High Tech Burrito, a Bay Area-based fast-food chain, they need
to remember to bring only two things — an empty stomach and a forefinger.
That's because even when they leave their wallets in their other pair
of pants, they can pay up by simply using their fingerprints.
High Tech Burrito is one of 2,100 stores in 44 states that are or have
been clients of Pay By Touch, a company that lets customers use biometric identification — body-based measurements unique to each person — instead of cash or a credit
card to pay their bills.
For Pay By Touch and its clients and customers, biometrics is the cutting
edge of convenience and consumer technology.
For critics, biometrics straddles the line between privacy rights and
identity security on one side and the selling-out of personal data on the other.
"Paying by card is antiquated," Pay By Touch COO John Morris said from
the company's headquarters in San Francisco. "It's a constant from a long time ago. But people love [biometrics], people
love the convenience — it's like a free service that speeds them through the line. They like the security of it.
"If you hand a paper check to a stranger, seven or eight humans touch
that check before it gets into your account, and see your personal data," he added. "With biometrics, you're uniquely you.
Why carry a purse in a dark parking lot when I can lock it in the trunk and pay by finger?"
People who enroll in Pay By Touch have two fingerprints — usually
those of both forefingers — scanned into a computer that records the patterns of ridges, swirls and whorls that make
each person's print unique.
The fingerprint information is stored in a top-security IBM data center. To prevent a data leak, Pay By Touch hires "ethical hackers" to try to break in to the system.