Brave new world: Pay with your fingerprint?

I've been pretty cranky lately while wheeling my cart through the aisles of Giant, Kroger, Harris Teeter, and CVS. That's because ever since I stopped using their insidious "shopper's cards" ever since I stopped exchanging my privacy for lower prices I've been paying more than my fellow shoppers who are willing to make that deceptively innocuous trade.

Last spring I reluctantly began listening to the anti-card crusaders, and before long I was alarmed enough to cut up my cards and write about the controversy ["Those cards! Does Kroger want my body?" June 13, 2002]. I wasn't ready to go cold turkey, though, so I took a new set out in my cats' names.

Three weeks later I was even more disturbed by the system's potential for havoc and decided to go cardless; I announced that decision in a second column and passed along a variety of readers' opinions on the subject ["Scared straight: The cards have got to go" July 4, 2002].

So here I am, six weeks into my higher-priced life of privacy and ready to raise my voice even louder. Now, when cashiers ask if I have the store's card, I state in a confident tone, "No, I don't I object to the invasion of my privacy." (Unless, that is, I'm feeling so demoralized by the whole affair that all I can manage is "No.")

My declaration of independence has elicited an interesting response twice now in the same store, which will remain anonymous to protect employees: The cashier has quickly let it be known that he, too, disapproves of the system. The last one even asked if I think there's any hope of getting a politician interested. At two of the four stores, the employee simply swiped a spare card and let me have the lower prices.

A UVA faculty member where I work startled me by his "So what?" attitude toward this kind of surveillance technology.

It's easy to say, as he did and I used to that these stores are welcome to know what brands I prefer. But now that I don't even want them to know that much, imagine how I felt when I learned that Kroger is testing a fingerprint-reading system in Bryan/College Station, Texas, that will allow shoppers to pay electronically by pressing one finger to a screen: no need for cash, checkbook, or credit card.

What if Kroger likes their new system so much that they decide to require us to sign up if we want to pay by check or credit card? Such a system, they'll claim, merely allows Kroger to be sure we're who we say we are.

Take it one step further: What about people like me, who almost always pay in cash? Might we not begin to seem a little, ah, suspect? Perhaps it would be safer just to require that all shoppers join the program....

If you think I'm inventing bogeymen, I invite you to visit www.nocards.org, where there are links to such things as a recent article in The Village Voice ["Your Grocery List Could Spark a Terror Probe: Buying Trouble," July 24, 2002] that documents exactly how easy it is for the information these companies collect the same information they insist will be shared with no one to end up in all kinds of government agencies' hands.

If you want to join me in showing these companies that you object to their use of shopper's cards, do what I've done and write them (at the addresses posted with this column at www.readthehook.com), and be sure to enclose your cards.

If enough people join our ranks, perhaps we'll convince these companies to shield their prying eyes.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902.