10:21:31 pm on
Sunday 14 Jul 2024

The Forced March
David Simmonds

The old era is about over. The era of creating, storing and regurgitating hundreds of different passwords is gone. The new era is biometric era.

Biometric passwords are here.

According to the New York “Times,” most major banks in the US are implementing systems that will allow for recognition of voice, eyes, facial contours or fingerprints as a password substitute for the timeworn string of characters you create for yourself. Once the banks go that way, the rest of our noble institutions can’t be far behind.

I must admit to being a complete failure with passwords. It begins right at the creation stage. Who knew that ‘alphanumeric’ means a combination of letters and numbers? Passwords are case sensitive. ‘Fewer than 10 and more than eight’ characters mean nine, exactly.

I don’t appreciate an impertinent computer trying to tell me how good a job I’ve done creating a secure password. My failure extends to storage and retrieval: I can never remember where I have written down or filed my password. On the rare occasion I can, I can’t decipher it or remember which password applies to which service. When I triumph and remember my password, chances are I haven’t written down my user name properly.

‘Secret answers to trick questions’ are the next resort for people like me. Yet, I have trouble with them. “What is the name of your cat?” forces me to look back on the various cats I have had in my household to guess which ownership phase I was in when I created the password, knowing that a wrong answer will trigger an international crisis.

Some trick questions are impossible to answer.

Some trick questions are impossible to answer, for example, “What is the first given name of your grandmother’s grandson by your mother who is neither older nor younger than you?” You’d think that a computer would be able to scan my web browsing history and come up with a question that reflects the up to the minute, contemporary, vibrant me; a question I could answer immediately and uniquely, for example, “What is your favourite Donald Trump horror story?” Alternatively, a question that could identify me uniquely on the Myers-Briggs personality scale after posing me a few simple questions.

I started with banks, let’s stick with them. What can possibly go wrong by moving to biometric scanning? I assume the recognition programs are sophisticated enough to see beyond the rapidly graying hair, bloodshot eyes, facial wrinkles and fading voice. Thus, the software would not deny me entry as biometrically fraudulent because of the rapid onset of age.

What if I enter the witness protection programme and have to undergo plastic surgery. Will the bank’s computer still recognize me? What if a master criminal just purloins my biometrics: will that leave me without an identity to re-establish?

Maybe I should be looking at the other side of the mirror. Perhaps I also have a need to recognize my bank, safely, as much as it has a need to recognize me, safely. After all, banks are all talking “fintech” these days and the contraction, if not the ending, of the physical banking world.

If I can’t visit a bank branch, to see for myself, how am I to know that I am dealing with a real financial institution and not some shady person operating a swindle from the basement of the home of his or her parents? Perhaps my bank should offer me the same protection, as it demands of me, and show me the biometrics of the person I trust as my teller. In a place like Wellington, of course, this is moot: you can indeed visit your branch to see for yourself. You know the teller and the teller knows you, even though he or she may know you as the fellow who can’t count his cash. As long as I live in Wellington, Ontario, then, the choice of taking biometrics over alphanumeric passwords doesn’t worry me. Besides, I have no plans, yet, to enter the witness protection programme.

Can I recognize my bank online using biometrics?

I realize that what sticks in my craw is not the change in password standards. It’s the forced march to the online world, where I am, first, encouraged to receive my bill electronically because of its environmental benefits, and, then, told a couple of months later that “as a courtesy to you, we are continuing to mail you your bill. There’s a $2.50 service charge because of your obstreperous insistence on handling financial matters in the manner of bygone times.”

Hold it. I did not sign up for computerized bill payment when I signed on for your service. I demand cohort protection, the right of the over-60 specimen to coast into old age with the technology with which he came, biometric or un-biometric.


Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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