A scanner, snarkily

Bites is pretty sure Philip K. Dick never spent much time at the gym. But the author of A Scanner Darkly and the stories the films Minority Report and Blade Runner were based on—and a passel of other near-future tales of corporate feudalism and total surveillance—would have gotten a kick out of the new 24 Hour Fitness Clubs’ “cardless check-in” identification system. And by “kick,” Bites means paranoid freakout.

Earlier this month, the company began fingerprinting its customers at Sacramento-area gyms. It seems patrons don’t want to be inconvenienced by carrying a membership card any longer—and would prefer being scanned in at the door, like a pack of turkey burgers at the grocery store.

Bites tried to talk to someone at corporate about the probing, err, program. But after the operator at HQ entered Bites’ name, affiliation, reason for calling, two phone numbers and an e-mail address into the media hotline database, no one ever called back to answer basic questions like: “Could this information be subpoenaed by law-enforcement agencies? Could it be hacked?”

The company website does assure members that the company is not really gathering “fingerprints,” per se, but rather scans, which merely record the distinctive points of your fingerprint as a string of numbers.

Sorry, corporate, that’s still an electronic fingerprint.

The program is supposed to be voluntary; members can forgo all the convenience and just hold everyone up by showing a driver’s license or other government-issued ID to an attendant every time. But everyone will hate them.

Bites knows a lot of people aren’t particularly concerned about privacy. These are the people who are reading this and making a sour face and saying, “If you don’t like it, then just don’t go there. Duh!”

Good point. Certainly Bites has no problem not going to the gym. And we always have the choice to not give up personal information. For example, you don’t have to give up a Social Security number to the phone company, the cable company and the Internet company. You just won’t get phone, cable or Internet service. Your choice.

The company is using a “biometric and identity management” firm called MorphoTrak—a Dickian name if ever there was one—to administer the new system. On the MorphoTrak website, the firm boasts that it provides, “50 [percent] of the law enforcement biometric identification systems at the state and local level.” Morpho is also involved in the airport and transportation security business, smart cards, driver’s licenses, chemical identification, and border management. Oh, and gym memberships.

“Relax,” you say. “We’re just talking about a chain of cheap fitness centers. Remember in Minority Report, they used retina scans, not fingerprints. Duh!”

Bites has finally got Kevin Johnson figured out: He’s the world’s worst procrastinator. Instead of doing the tedious, difficult work that he’s been hired to do, namely being mayor of Sacramento, he’s spent the last year or so wasting time on the whole strong-mayor thing. Now that distraction is gone, he wants to get involved with the schools.

As a parent with little ankle-Biters in the district, you can’t possibly know how exciting is to learn that the mayor will be personally vetting and endorsing the candidates for the Sac city school board.

One of the questions he’ll be asking the candidates:

“What are their thoughts on data-based, objective report cards for schools, teachers and principals?”

In other words: “Should teachers and principals have their jobs tied to student test scores?” as Washington, D.C., schools chancellor, and Johnson’s financée, Michelle Rhee is pushing for back east.

But how much is a mayoral endorsement worth in a local election? Go ask Lauren Hammond or Robbie Waters.