Why a painting is as good as a photo on a passport

by Rebecca Roache

Fredrik Saker, a Swedish artist, is in the news this week for having successfully applied for a driving licence using a photograph not of himself, but of a self-portrait painting. It is interesting to consider, in the light of this, what is so special about photographs. Why do agencies that issue documents featuring images of their bearers – like driving licences and passports – require applicants to submit photographs? Is there any good reason not also to permit self-portrait paintings, drawings, or any other sort of artistic creation?  Continue reading

Volcano Ethics: Should we be Flying the Unfriendly Skies?

An ash cloud produced by the eruption of the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano in Iceland has led to the severe disruption of airline transportation in the UK and across a wide swathe of Europe, with UK airspace almost completely closed since midday last Thursday. Passengers, freight importers and exporters, and airlines are just some of those affected by the disruption; some British employers are also taking a hit due to absent workers who went abroad for their Easter holidays and then found themselves stranded and unable to get home. The reasons for grounding the planes are non-trivial: as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) wrote in a press release last week: “Since volcanic ash is composed of very abrasive silica materials, it can damage the airframe and flight surfaces, clog different systems, abrade cockpit windows and flame-out jet engines constituting a serious safety hazard.”

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Is your fingerprint part of you?

In a report expressing concern about the increasing use of
biometric information to protect security and privacy, the Irish Council for
Bioethics (ICB) claimed earlier this month that “an individual’s biometric
information is an intrinsic element of that person”. Such claims are quite
commonly made in relation to genetic information, though the ICB’s extension of
the concept to other forms of biological information, such as that acquired from
fingerprinting, voice recognition software, and gait analysis, may be novel.

The claim that biometric information is an ‘intrinsic element of
the person’ seems designed to invoke powerful intuitions about our ownership of
our own body parts: we own our biological information just like we own our
kidneys. Indeed, the ICB go on to say that “the right to bodily integrity…. should
apply not only to an individual’s body, but also to any information derived
from the body, including his/her biometric information”. But both the
metaphysical claim that biometric information is an intrinsic element of the
person,and the moral claim that it is covered by rights to bodily integrity
are highly problematic.

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