The iPod mugging has become one of the top crimes de nos jours, but despair not, worried teen victim - the Tony Blair crime policy legacy is poised to come to your rescue. With fingerprint activation of MP3 players.
The suggestion makes a brief (which is the good news) appearance in the second of Blair's policy reviews, Building on Progress: Security, Crime and Justice, published this week, as an example of how crime can be 'designed out' of products. It is however the only example, which we think is the bad news.
The Government proposes, the review says, to "Work in partnership with businesses to crime-proof their products, services and processes to the highest standards. One example could be introducing fingerprint activation of MP3 players."
Regrettably, the review neglects to explain how the authors think this might work, but given the generally rickety and delusional grasp Government wonks tend to have of biometric technology's capabilities and limitations, we fear we can surmise. In principle it's fairly easy to add fingerprint activation to a personal music player - it's already being done on some laptops and various consumer electronic add-ons, and we're pretty sure we could find a couple of MP3 players that already have it if we could be bothered looking, so don't write in.
That is not the point. The point is that 'security' of this class is generally part speed-bump to the casual intruder, part convenience for people who don't want the hassle of remembering passwords. It is not serious protection of your data, if you want that then you'd be better using encryption, and it does not prevent hardware theft. So long as a thief can reset the biometric activation and reformat the hardware, the previous owner's fingerprints are of little relevance.
So, if the Government proposes to pursue this one, it can possibly persuade a few manufacturers to stick the speed-bump onto their devices and happily bank the crime-fighting marketing collateral. If, however, it proposes to pursue it to the extent that a system that could (theoretically, at least) make a difference was produced, then we'd end up with something along the following lines. Your iPod, mobile phone, electric toothbrush or whatever would require you to undergo a fingerprint activated registration process before it would start working. Your fingerprints could then be stored by the manufacturer along with your name, address, email, phone number and spamming preferences. Then, when the device was lost or stolen you'd simply contact the manufacturer and... Well, as whoever stole your iPod already can't get it to work unless they stole your fingers too, and the manufacturer is surely not about to give you a new one for free, we're not sure about what would come next, or why you'd have bothered contacting the manufacturer, considering.
But anyway, there'd be no point in stealing iPods, probably. Not without the fingers. ®