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Cash or plastic? How about fingerprint?

FULL STORY AT http://money.cnn.com/2005/07/19/pf/security_biometrics/

Instead of keeping countless cards and pieces of information that verify your identification, soon there may be only one thing you need: yourself.

As identity theft has become the bane of consumers everywhere, technologies aimed at making transactions more secure are gaining ground. Such "biometric technologies" include iris scans, as well as those for fingerprints, palm, skin, voice and face patterns.

"In everyday life, the use of biometrics has been growing," said Philip Youn, a consultant at International Biometric Group.

The underlying strength of biometrics is that it uses patterns that are unique to each individual. Your fingerprints belong to you alone, and unlike that password to your online bank account, you can never lose it.

Where can you see it now?

Retail. Albertson's, the No. 2 supermarket chain, is one of hundreds of retailers testing biometric payment systems that let customers pay for purchases with a mere swipe of a finger.

It works like this: You register your fingerprint and your bank account with a service provider. The main ones are Pay By Touch and BioPay.

When you shop at a participating merchant, you just swipe your finger and the payment is automatically transferred from your bank to the merchant -- you don't have to hand over a card, sign a receipt or punch in a PIN.

Earlier this year, Albertson's joined the Pay By Touch network and is testing the service at four of its stores in the Portland, Oregon area.

"One thing we've heard repeatedly from our customers is that they would like to speed up the checkout process," Albertson's spokeswoman Shannon Bennett said. The feedback has been "very positive" she said, although the company hasn't announced any expansion plans for the program.

So far Pay By Touch is available at 100 to 200 stores while rival BioPay's system can be accessed at 150 locations.

"Biometric payments are the safest because no information is passed to the merchant," said Donita Prakash, vice president of marketing at BioPay.

And because you don't have to present your card at the point of sale, the transaction is faster, Pay By Touch marketing director Shannon Riordan said.

Another selling point: biometrics could offer are instant age verification for alcohol and tobacco sales.

Computers. Getting started with biometrics for your computer is as easy as picking up a product like the Biopod Password Manager produced by APC. The small fingerprint scanning device, which plugs into a USB port, stores all your passwords in your fingerprint.

When you go visit your favorite Web sites -- whether it be Amazon.com or your investment portfolio -- all you have to do is scan your fingerprint.

If you don't want to deal with external hardware, IBM, Toshiba and Compaq all sell notebook models already outfitted with a fingerprint reader.

The price of the Biopod is about $50 while laptops with the device built-in can sell for as little as $1,300.

Travel. If you travel internationally, then soon you'll be carrying some high-tech identification. The Department of State has launched a plan to introduce electronic passports that come with a chip that stores the usual personal information as well as a digital photo which enables biometric comparison through the use of facial recognition technology at international borders.

According to State Department spokeswoman Joanne Moore, the electronic passports are still in test mode, but partial implementation is planned for the fall and full implementation in 2006.

Techno-generation Cash, card or microchip
FULL STORY AT http://www.raidersnewsupdate.com/lead-story182.htm

At a bar in Barcelona, select clientele can pay for drinks and access the VIP lounge at the scan of a tiny implanted digital tag. Julius Purcell goes where the chip crowd go.

On a warm summer night in Barcelona, the dance floor of the Baja Beach Club is a writhing mass of locals and tourists. The normal punters here still have to go through the tiresome rituals of queuing for entry, waiting at the bar, fumbling for change, and fretting about the safety of their wallets. But for the lucky members of the Baja's VIP lounge, a magic chip implanted in their arm does it all for them. The cybernetic disco has arrived.

It's midnight, and time for the VIP lounge to open. Footballers Ronaldinho and Eto'o are sometimes here, though apparently not tonight. At the entrance, there's no lists of names, just a computer. Baja Beach Club director Conrad Chase is on hand to show how it works.

"Some of us who work at Baja already have the implant," he explains, rolling up his sleeve. "It's somewhere about here..." he murmurs, feeling his upper arm. He runs the scanner device over himself, and the computer instantly reads his 16-digit ID code. A photo pops up on the screen with his name, and the security man jokily waves the boss through.

Chase is a dynamic, bouncy American, always with an eye on the next new thing. He's also a household name in Spain, having just starred in the country's Big Brother, which may explain why he's just been mobbed by a crowd of Spanish girls wanting his photo.

"Actually, we started the VIP bar precisely to stop our famous guests getting mobbed," he explains, with a touch of fellow feeling. "We wanted to offer them a membership card that was modern and cool, and it was then, last year, that I discovered the chip idea on some geek website."

VeriChip, as the technology is called, is manufactured by Applied Digital Solutions, a Florida-based company, and so far is the only chip on the market that can be embedded in humans. The chip is tiny, about the size of a pen point, and can be painlessly injected into the arm by any qualified nurse (Chase insists that at the Baja they only do this "early in the evening"). The scanning software, VeriPay, is operated by Windows.

Currently, there are more than 90 chipped VIP members of the Baja; staff won't be drawn on whether these include Ronaldinho (not all VIPs have opted for the device). Those that have, Chase explains, can run a tab on a central computer, which they can check up on with a wave of the arm. Chase is keen to point out the impossibility of credit-card details somehow leaking out. "It's a closed, pre-pay system we use here. Bills for drinks are simply debited off their Baja accounts."

He does admit that the chips seem to make his guests spend more money. "People like to play with it; they want to see the system working." The technology is still very much a novelty. Chase, who says the Baja in Barcelona was the first disco in the world to use VeriChip, has now introduced it in its sister club in Rotterdam. He also knows of clubs in London and Miami which are considering buying it.

Applied Digital has been manufacturing electronic chips for years, mainly as a tagging device for the movement of goods, salmon stocks and domestic animals. Then, last autumn, the US Food and Drug Administration cleared the use of the VeriChip for implanting medical details in patients, a potential life-saver at accident scenes. With this official thumbs-up, use of VeriChip in humans could spread across various sectors. Along with leisure applications such as those at the Baja, implanted chips can be used by office staff and security officers to access restricted areas.

Applied Digital's director of technical solutions, Craig J Almaraz, says that the company does not know, for privacy reasons, how many people now have chips implanted in them. The applications such chips will be put to, he predicts, will also vary from place to place: "I foresee the security market growing worldwide, while in the US it will be more towards the healthcare area," he says.

Given the novelty of such technology, it's impossible not to speculate on its future uses. Will a chip ever be able to detect cancer? Almaraz doesn't see why "multiple bio-sensing capabilities" couldn't eventually be developed.

One application that may be realised rather sooner is the VeriChip's use in a "smart gun". Firearms manufacturer FN Herstal is researching the possibilities of installing VeriChip-readers in its guns. Only the owner, who has the corresponding chip implanted in their hand, will then be able to fire it.

While the Baja Beach Club's innovative use of the VeriChip has caused much interest, Almaraz says that nobody can predict with any accuracy if credit cards, ID and keys will one day all be bundled into one tiny personal chip. Privacy and fraud concerns aside, chips with everything is a tantalising proposition. "My own personal opinion," Almaraz says, "is that this is where technology and evolution is now moving us."