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Want to use the Web? Your fingerprint, please.

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Soon, patrons of the Naperville Public Library - at least those wanting to use the Internet - will need more than a library card.

They'll give a fingerprint.

It sounds like something out of a Philip K. Dick novel, but the new requirement is in many ways unsurprising.

The library, like other Internet providers nationwide, has realized computer users aren't always who they say they are. And the technology it will use to check up on them is fairly simple - patrons will press a glass-topped scanner.

In Naperville, the identity swapping consists largely of kids trying to circumvent their parents' Internet-filter rules. But in today's wireless world, users' purposes can be much more sinister: sending spam, looking up child pornography, or, increasingly, trolling for personal information like bank-account numbers and passwords - all under a cloak of anonymity.

The Internet may have changed our intellectual landscape by opening doors to vast amounts of knowledge, but it's also made that landscape increasingly treacherous. Meanwhile, efforts to improve security - whether scanning for fingerprints or requiring more personal information for access to wireless networks - raise questions about how to keep a valuable resource open to all without letting it be abused, and whether it's possible to balance security with privacy.

"I used to be the guy saying we have to have anonymity on the Internet, but now I think it's far more important for us to have an orderly space," says William Murray, a computer-security consultant at CyberTrust.

Not everyone agrees, and moves like Naperville's have some worried that online privacy is endangered. The library says it's doing everything it can to protect patrons. It deletes its log-in files on a daily basis, and doesn't spy on the sites users visit. While deputy director Mark West acknowledges that some may be wary of the fingerprint technology, he hopes a public-education campaign will help explain how it's used and, most important, its limits.

"You can't compare it to an FBI database or anything like that," says Mr. West.


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