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Biometric Privacy Trade-off Exposed in Missing Jet's Passports

The pages of a new biometric passport are stitched together at a printing plant in Belgrade
The pages of a new biometric passport are stitched together at a printing plant in BelgradePhotograph by Oliver Bunic/Bloomberg

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, governments have presented citizens with a trade-off they couldn’t refuse: Surrender your data and dignity in exchange for some security. The arrangement has ranged from phone surveillance to airport shoe removal. And at every turn, privacy advocates have raised the alarm that individuals are getting the raw end of the deal.

Now the disappearance of a Malaysian airliner over the South China Sea is giving privacy defenders an I-told-you-so moment. Two passengers used stolen European passports, at least one of which was equipped with biometric features, which can include electronically stored fingerprints and facial images, Bloomberg News reported. When immigration officials access the data, they can determine if travelers really are who they purport to be.