Biometrics

Part of Venezuela’s Food Safety Biometric System involved putting fingerprint scanners in the grocery store for the purpose of their rationing program. What was a voluntary measure intended to speed the process has turned into a mandatory measure of control — under the desperation of a food shortage. As a result, government agents can no-eat someone in Venezuela the way that US agents can No Fly someone here in the states.

And they do.

When there’s short supply, it becomes tempting to those tasked with distributing the goods to favor those they like over those they don’t. As a result, everyone on the Tascón list — millions of people who petitioned to recall the election of Hugo Chávez in 2004 — are all no-eat.

There’s a saying and right now I can’t pin down its proper origin,(This guy tried.) so I’m going to use the Red Dwarf quote:

They say that every society is only three meals away from revolution. Deprive a culture of food for three meals, and you’ll have an anarchy. And it’s true, isn’t it? You haven’t eaten for a couple of days, and you’ve turned into a barbarian.
— Rimmer, Red Dwarf, S03E01 Backwards

Giving Venezuelans the benefit of the doubt, I suspect they’re going to do everything they can to prevent those on the No-Eat list from actually going hungry. Firstly, we humans are an empathetic sort when it comes to those around us. We don’t like to see those in our community suffer, even if we don’t like them personally very much. Secondly, hungry people get crazy the way any other hungry mammal does, and this is a good thing to prevent. More accurately, it’s a bad thing to overlook.

I expect the first workaround will be the charity of those who can purchase food. Some people will get fed from the rations of their friends and loved ones. After that, well… I’ll indulge in a bit of dystopian futurism:

Boom Goes The Black Market! It first starts with some poor sap without any nearby friends (or they’re out of rations or whatever. And the store manager takes pity on him and gives him some food, and the guy says Here. I know you’re risking your neck. And drops him a family heirloom. Or some fancy hooch. Or a surprising bit of cash. Maybe the manager turns non-consumable runoff into something edible. Maybe he cooks his books a little. Maybe shoplifting is up a bit (hint: yes, it actually is.) Word gets out, and the next thing he knows, he’s making a killing selling food out the back door. And is feeling good about it. And then the criminal element realizes there’s bank to be made providing food to those the state will not. (Spoiler: Food smuggling is already an issue in Venezuela)

Hackers Hack For Freedom! Nothing turns a hat from white to black faster than an oppressive state. The thing is, fingerprint scanners have been hacked long ago. It takes equipment numbering in the hundreds of dollars, but not thousands. The know-how was publicized within five days of fingerprint readers featured on a public release of cell phones. It won’t be long before those connected to organized crime (or who just know some guys and get organized) will each have a handy rubber finger with which to confirm they’re Someone Else. And even when it’s obvious, I bet more of the shops and suppliers will be willing to look the other way, especially if they pay the Silence Tax with non-Bolivar currency.

Loaves And Fishes! A politician once explained to me that the easiest way to fill out a public protest is to provide food. Donuts and pizza are the common norm in San Francisco. Food can turn a demonstration from tens to hundreds (or with enough provisions, from hundreds to thousands). The ministries of every religious cause seeking fresh initiates might flock to Venezuela on recruitment drives. Faith comes easy when baptism comes with a free bowl of stew. With your third meal, you might also get an AK-47 and a designated target. Praise the Lord!

Venezuela isn’t special in this case. As 9/11 demonstrated, any people can get a bit radical when in the middle of crisis. And meanwhile, biometric systems are going around. It’s a modest step in any nation for a prevalent technology to go from voluntary to mandatory. Here in the United States, biometrics may become a convenient way for a citizen to identify herself, much the way checking accounts became a convenient way to safely engage in transactions.

But at the point that such a device is compulsory (whether mandated by the state, or just prevalent enough that everyone assumes you have access), it becomes tempting for the state to use it to monitor, and persecute enemies among the citizens (that is, those folks that are not liked by some official with the power to tag them). And when that happens, persecution becomes the fodder for organized crime. If you tick-off enough people, it becomes fuel for the blaze of revolution.

We should observe Venezuela astutely, and take note of how this situation unfolds.

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