File under “unexpected:” the human ear is apparently as good an identifier as the face or the fingerprint, if not better. British researchers determined that by using technology that measures the ear’s structures, they can use the ear to determine who a person with accuracy up to 99 percent. As a consequence, some speculate that airport security, in the future, will be using this technology to identify travelers as an alternative to the tedious and often unpleasant screening technologies used now, such as multiple time-consuming ID and tickets checks.
A functional scanning system could simply and efficiently reveal whether or not that person is supposed to be traveling where they’re traveling and if they’re considered to be “dangerous” or on a do-not-fly list (though those are their own can of worms and one I can’t get into here for concerns of space).
It poses two major advantages to the facial scan system: it’s faster and it has the potential to be considerably more accurate. Whereas a facial scan would require someone to stand in front of a camera and be surveyed, an ear scan could be performed from one (or both) sides as someone passes through a terminal’s security system, making it considerably more efficient. Second, ears age much less drastically than faces do, making them much more consistent over years or decades than faces have the potential to be, as they don’t become wrinkled or deformed over time (except, perhaps, if you’re Evander Holyfield and have yours bitten by Mike Tyson mid-fight, ruining this entire system until new ear scans are taken, making it just that much easier to be identified as Evander Holyfield).
Ear scans could thus serve as an easy way to ensure that everyone is who they say they are as they travel, sidestepping at least some of the tedium of the present American security system with its constant (and often unpleasant) identification checks. But this still seems far away. Neither of the technologies that this is supposed to succeed – facial scans or fingerprint scans – have been rolled out yet for mass use by transportation security, though an ear scan would be more logical; it sidesteps the issue of germs acquired by a device that everyone would have to touch, like a fingerprint reader and can, as mentioned above, be performed far more passively (for the surveyed) than the facial or retina scan.
However, for obvious reasons, this could be a distressing, concerning thing. Many people don’t want the government – or any organization – to know any more about them than they absolutely need to, and the measurements of one’s ears, captured alongside a photograph, are the kinds of details that could easily compromise one’s anonymity, making it much easier to be sought out in a world that emphasizes surveillance. Unlike the face, the ear seems far more permanent an initially insignificant, making it all the more alarming that it may serve as the focal point for new trends in travel security technology.
Andrew Hall is a guest blogger.