Saturday, April 24, 2010

About Face

Found in the Manila Bulletin - Spain claims first full-face transplant by Daniel Woolls, April 24, 2010:

MADRID (AP) – A team of surgeons has carried out the world's first full-face transplant on a young Spanish farmer unable to breathe or eat on his own since accidentally shooting himself in the face five years ago.

It was the most extensive operation yet and the 11th known face transplant worldwide.

During the 24-hour surgery, doctors lifted an entire face, including jaw, nose, cheekbones, muscles, teeth, and eyelids, and placed it masklike onto the man, Dr. Joan Pere Barret told The Associated Press on Friday.

Transplant experts hailed the surgery, carried out late last month at Barcelona's Vall d'Hebron Hospital, as a significant advance.

“It is a breakthrough. They are pushing the envelope and I am very happy for them,” said Dr. Thomas Romo, chief of facial and reconstructive surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

The Spanish patient, who was not identified, now has a completely new face from his hairline down and only one visible scar, which looks like a wrinkle running across his neck, said Barret, who headed the 30-member surgical team.

Go to the link and read the rest of the story.

This, of course, has ramifications far beyond accidental dismemberments. From Biometrics for identification, by Jake Edge, April 2, 2008:

Using a fingerprint or other physical characteristic, called biometric data, for identity verification seems, at first glance, like a perfect solution to the problem. Unfortunately, there are some basic problems with using biometric information that way. If the biometric data can be gathered by others, it no longer makes such a good identifier.

As part of a political protest against including fingerprints in passports, the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) published a fingerprint of German Home Secretary Wolfgang Schäuble. Schäuble is a supporter of collecting fingerprint data to combat terrorism. The club not only published the picture, but also a film that can be placed over a finger to deceive fingerprint scanners. A club spokesman has usage recommendations as reported in heise online:

We recommend that you use the film whenever your fingerprint is taken, such as when you enter the US, stop over at Heathrow, or even when you touch bottles at your local super market -- just to be on the safe side.

It seems unlikely that CCC's distributed finger film will actually leave the Secretary's print on a glass surface, but more sophisticated versions of the same basic idea should be able to. Various folks have shown that using an image of someone's fingerprint can fool most scanners. Even sophisticated scanners can be spoofed when that image is placed over a live finger—with body temperature and pulse. The problem is that while a fingerprint is unique, it isn't secret. CCC got theirs from a sympathizer who picked it up from a glass used by the Secretary during a speech.

How easy has it been to get people's account numbers and other private information - especially with all the corporate and government databases that solicit this information?

All this computerized data just drives a determined criminal to try a little harder - but, it certainly creates more opportunities to steal information that we should be allowed to protect instead of being forced to divulge every time we turn around.

More importantly, it is now possible to literally steal a person's identity - face and all - and combine that with fingerprint and other data to make a very convincing imposter.

What might be a motive for this?

Well, money comes to mind. Especially if the face you are getting rid of is one sought internationally by law enforcement for other crimes already committed.

A radical religious-political ideology of armed conquest that promises you virgins in the afterlife comes to mind as well - free virgins can be powerful incentive to someone who feels he has nothing to lose.

They can now transplant entire faces, and have been able to fake someone's fingerprints for a while now....

Think about that.

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