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Walt Disney World, which bills itself as one of the happiest and
most magical places anywhere, also may be one of the most closely
watched and secure. The nation's most popular tourist attraction is
beginning to scan your fingerprint information.
For years, Disney has recorded onto tickets the geometry and shape
of visitors' fingers to prevent ticket fraud or resale, as an
alternative to time-consuming photo identification checks.
By the end of the month, all of the geometry readers at Disney's
four Orlando theme parks will be replaced with machines that scan
fingerprint information, according to industry experts familiar with
the technology. The four parks attract tens of millions of visitors
"It's essentially a technology upgrade," said Kim Prunty,
spokeswoman for Walt Disney World. The new scanner, like the old
finger geometry scanner, "takes an image, identifies a series of
points, measures the distance between those points, and turns it
into a numerical value."
She added, "To call it a fingerprint is a little bit of a stretch."
Privacy advocates disagree. They believe Disney has not fully
disclosed the purpose of its new system. There are no signs posted
at the entrances detailing what information is being collected and
how it is being used. Attendants at the entrances will explain the
system, if asked.
"The lack of transparency has always been a problem," said Lillie
Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information
Center. She said Disney's use of the technology "fails a
proportionality test" by requiring too much personal information for
access to roller coasters.
"What they're doing is taking a technology that was used to control
access to high-level security venues and they're applying it to
controlling access to a theme park," Coney said.
George Crossley, president of the Central Florida ACLU, said, "It's
impossible for them to convince me that all they are getting is the
fact that that person is the ticket-holder."
Disney's Prunty downplayed privacy issues, saying the scanned
information is stored "independent of all of our other systems" and
"the system purges it 30 days after the ticket expires or is fully
utilized." Visitors who object to the readers can provide photo
identification instead - although the option is not advertised at
She said the new system will be easier for people to use and will
reduce wait times. The old machines required visitors to insert two
fingers into a reader that identified key information about the
shape of the fingers. The new machines scan one fingertip for its
fingerprint information. Prunty said the company does not store the
entire fingerprint image, but only numerical information about
The technology ensures that multiday passes are not resold, Prunty
said. A one-day, one-park ticket to Walt Disney World costs $67,
but the daily price falls dramatically for a 10-day pass. She said
multiday pricing is the reason for the scanners. "It's very
important that a guest who purchases the ticket is the guest who
uses it," she said.
Scanning fingerprint information isn't new to private businesses or
the government, which scans fingerprints of visitors entering the
After the Sept. 11 attacks, the federal government sought out
Disney's advice in intelligence, security and biometrics, a tool
that teaches computers to recognize and identify individuals based
on their unique characteristics.
The government may have wanted Disney's expertise because Walt
Disney World has the nation's largest single commercial application
of biometrics, said Jim Wayman, director of the National Biometric
Test Center at San Jose State University.
"The government was very aware of what Disney was doing," he said.
Industry insiders say Disney has expressed interest in an even more
advanced form of biometric technology - automated face recognition.
It has been touted as a way to pick criminals and terrorists out of
Minnesota-based Identix Inc., which has contracts with the State
Department and the Department of Homeland Security, has been in
contact with Disney.
Another company, California-based A4Vision Inc., confirmed meeting
with Disney officials in the past year to present its A4 facial
recognition system. "They were interested," said A4Vision
spokeswoman Suzanne Mattick. A4Vision is funded in part by the
Defense Department and In-Q-Tel, the CIA's venture capital firm for
Prunty, however, said face recognition is "not something we're
currently looking at."
Although Disney will not disclose who makes its fingerprint
scanners, biometrics experts said the new technology is likely
provided by New Mexico-based Lumidigm Inc.
That company also has received funding from the CIA as well as the
National Security Agency and the Defense Department, according to
founder and CEO Bob Harbour.
Harbour did not confirm or deny the company's role as the provider
of Disney's new scanners but said it has a "major theme park" as a
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