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Disney World scans fingerprint details of park visitors

Privacy advocates call move invasive and unwarranted

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Walt Disney World, which bills itself as one of the happiest and most magical places anywhere, also may be one of the most closely watched and secure. The nation's most popular tourist attraction is beginning to scan fingerprint information.

For years, Disney has recorded onto tickets the geometry and shape of visitors' fingers to prevent ticket fraud or resale, as an alternative to time-consuming photo identification checks.

By the end of the month, all of the geometry readers at Disney's four Orlando theme parks will be replaced with machines that scan fingerprint information, according to industry specialists familiar with the technology. The four parks attract tens of millions of visitors each year.

``It's essentially a technology upgrade," said Kim Prunty, spokeswoman for Walt Disney World. The new scanner, like the old finger-geometry scanner, ``takes an image, identifies a series of points, measures the distance between those points, and turns it into a numerical value."

She added, ``To call it a fingerprint is a little bit of a stretch."

Privacy advocates disagree. They contend that Disney has not fully disclosed the purpose of its new system. There are no signs posted at the entrances detailing what information is being collected and how it is being used. Attendants at the entrances will explain the system, if asked.

``The lack of transparency has always been a problem," said Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. She said Disney's use of the technology ``fails a proportionality test" by requiring too much personal information for access to roller coasters.

``What they're doing is taking a technology that was used to control access to high-level security venues and they're applying it to controlling access to a theme park," Coney said.

George Crossley, president of central Florida's American Civil Liberties Union, said, ``It's impossible for them to convince me that all they are getting is the fact that that person is the ticket-holder."

Prunty downplayed privacy issues, saying the scanned information is stored ``independent of all of our other systems," and ``the system purges it 30 days after the ticket expires or is fully utilized." Visitors who object to the readers can provide photo identification instead -- although the option is not advertised at park entrances.

She said the new system will be easier for people to use and will reduce wait times.

The old machines required visitors to insert two fingers into a reader that identified key information about the shape of the fingers. The new machines scan one fingertip for its fingerprint information.

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