But privacy advocates find such systems troubling. The more personal information gets collected, the more is at risk if the data is hacked into or otherwise exposed, says Lillie Coney, associate director of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center.
"There are a lot of other ways to find out whether someone is present at work," she says. "[With biometrics] you open up the employee for problems later on if the information is compromised ... and you can't get a new fingerprint."
The legal framework around the workplace use of biometrics - and electronic monitoring overall - is still emerging.
Workers at the New York City construction office aim to help shape it. The Civil Service Technical Guild Local 375, which represents about 600 of the construction office workers, lodged a formal complaint yesterday with the city Office of Collective Bargaining, says union lawyer Rachel J. Minter.
The union says the hand-scanner system represents so big a change in workplace conditions that it should be subject to negotiation. The construction-office staff has never had to punch time clocks, let alone submit a body part for inspection, says Jon Forster, a union vice president.
"[Employees] come to me and say, 'Jon, they trust me with a $10 million project, but they don't trust that I'm going to sign in?'" he said.
But a spokesman for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg argues that the hand reader will save employees the trouble of filling out time sheets.
As for the privacy implications of relying on biometrics, "you can create a hypothetical argument for not doing anything, anytime," said the spokesman, Stu Loeser. "Is the argument that people are going to go out and create prosthetic hands?"
Several city agencies already use the hand-reader system, including the personnel and law offices, Loeser said.
Biometric products and services being sold in 2006
Software services 11%
Annual revenue for makers, sellers and others in the biometric industry; 2006 and
SOURCE: INTERNATIONAL BIOMETRIC GROUP