Well, it has begun. Today, I closed my Paypal account. This is just the first step in the slow and admittedly painful process of disconnecting from the Internet. I’ve known it was coming for awhile, but I can’t say that made it easier. Honestly, I love this thing. The greatest joy in my life was the moment, at age six, I realized that because I could read I would never have to stop learning. The invention of the information super highway was beyond my wildest dreams. It’s the largest and most diverse library in the world, and it’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week!
However, I must go. Like any relationship, it is only healthy as long as the boundaries are clear, strong, and respectful. My technology partner has now violated them beyond repair.
All of this began the day I read about the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC), the White House drive toward universal biometric identification for every person using the World Wide Web. I was literally sick when I realized the “trusted identities” were not the government departments, public institutions, or big box retailers responsible for managing our records. No, the trusted identities are us… but only after we are “authenticated”.
If you haven’t heard of NSTIC (nastique!), you are not alone. Most Americans have no idea there is a public-private partnership between government and technology companies whose mission it is to propel us into a brave new world of human-machine integration in every aspect of our lives. The plan, which is well underway and well-funded with our tax dollars, will require you to prove you are you before you can go online. This authentication is to be carried out by a third-party and can only be achieved after you submit a part of your body– a fingerprint, iris, palm, or some other uniquely patterned part– to be stored in some great cloud server. When you wish to go online, then you will present your biometric part to the proper digital authority; if it agrees that you are who you say you are, then you will get access.
Not surprisingly, this universal or “federated” ID is being sold to consumers as a convenient alternative to passwords. Once you get on with your authenticated ID, you don’t need passwords any longer. You will be free to check your bank balance, go shopping, video chat, et cetera without having to remember all those letters and numbers and %&*!$. The Apple iPhone 6, with Apple Pay, was the first major consumer product to fully integrate the technology. Next time you see an ad for Apple Pay on television, look closely. Notice how carefully the thumb scan is edited out.
The other big sales job on biometric is that it will be more secure against fraud. The IRS, in documents discussing biometric ID programs for tax filing, justifies its use by highlighting the amount of money they lose to cheaters every year. Some politicians apparently like it, too. One state senator from New Mexico asked the secretary of state in March 2015 to force citizens to use biometric ID to vote.
Of course, the bureaucrats and geeks claim biometrics will prevent the compromising of your debit and credit cards, or any card, for that matter, including school IDs. K-12s all over the country are now using fingerprint scans in the lunch line. You won’t be surprised to learn that biometric readers are now being rolled out in airports for passenger “security”.
So, let’s stop for a moment. Do you see the pattern? The focus of online security has changed since our mutual Internet journey began nearly 20 years ago. In the past, the onus was on the site you patronized. However, universal biometric IDs shifts the responsibility to you, the individual user. If you are a responsible citizen, the thinking goes, you will gladly be authenticated to “stay safe”. Instantly, all global corporations and bureaucratic quagmires involved in online communications and money handling have been absolved of their duties to make your personal actions private and secure.
It almost goes without saying that none of them bothered to ask customers and tax payers what they thought about it, which might be because they already know nobody likes this “666” thing, except the companies in line to make billions. Wherever I mention it– whether at the bank, with my hairdresser, or at family gatherings– every single person makes a face. Not one has smiled and said, “Oh, what a good idea!” when hearing about it the first time. The most common response is the word “creepy”. Even the non-religious can see it is very much like the descriptions of the Biblical “mark of the beast” https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Revelation%2013:17, including the part about buying and selling. In the very near future, you may find yourself prohibited from commerce and basic transactions– from Coke machines to banking – without having first been authenticated by your biometric mark.
So I made the decision to unplug. I know a lot of folks have been prepping for a time when the Internet and other products and services are not available, but I don’t think this was the crisis most people anticipated. We expected an external event to turn out the lights and stop the trucks. It was to be an act outside of our control that forced us to rely on stored supplies, strong bodies, and community support.
Now, we see that the day we prepped for isn’t coming from out of the blue after all. It will come by our own hands. If we choose not to submit the intimate details of our biological imprint, we might not be able to get money from the bank, or buy food at the grocery store with a credit or debit card, which must be authenticated. We might not receive healthcare or be able to sign in at work.
So I started with PayPal. The security chief there is one of the leaders of the push into a “passwordless” world. His statement forced me to realize we were beyond both “if” and “when”. I honestly thought I’d have a couple more years before I had to start pulling the plug, and I am truly sad to be making this decision. We, the people, should be the innocent ones. We have committed no crime. We have done nothing to deserve this forced reduction of our human personhood into a series of zeros and ones that fit through a digital gateway.
A couple of years ago I understood that my beloved country was not the one in which I was raised, and I spent several weeks in deep grief. I remember the 60s and 70s and 80s, and the years before 9/11 plunged us into a state of constant surveillance. It’s good that I do. A life without Internet is slow. Fortunately, I have the benefit of having lived the majority of my life before on-demand movies and instant cash and an around-the-clock digital encyclopedia.
Today, I leave PayPal, but tomorrow it will be something else, and so on, until the separation is complete. You, too, have a decision to make. Will you retain your individuality, or will you join the biometric collective?
I leave you to think and to plan. Unlearning, or discovering, a life without “login” will be a lengthy process. For those of us who choose liberty, the time has come.