The Mark of the Bar Code

A recent comment prompted a post for discussion and speculation on the new bar coded-temple recommends that have been issued. In case you haven’t heard, all temple recommends will need to be converted over to the new versions. The temple will no longer accept the old recommends starting relatively soon. So, we are left with the question of what prompted the change.

I have come up with two possible explanations, but neither of which seems completely satisfactory.

1) The new temple recommend is supposed to provide greater security for the temple. The bar code will somehow prevent those who are not supposed to be there from getting in.

The problem with this theory is that I don’t see temple security as that big of a problem, nor does this seem to be that big of a solution. Are there really that many people trying to sneak in to the temple with old cards? If so, the very fact that we know that this is a problem is evidence that the current system seems to be working. While it might prevent the reuse of expired cards that are forged, it doesn’t do anything to prevent the use of current cards that are stolen or that disaffected members might give away.

2) The new bar code is meant to give greater statistical data about temple attendance.

Presumably the temple recommend can provide data that goes beyond just the number of people in each session at the temple, which is all that they collect today. The new recommend could potentially provide information about the age groups that go to the temple, the geographic spread of attendance, which wards/stakes provide the most patrons, the average frequency which recommend holders attend, and even a detailed report about your own temple attendance. (Perhaps there will be a temple-attendance settlement at the end of the year where the bishop pulls up your records to note that you only did three endowment sessions and one sealing session all year.)

The problem with this theory is that it seems awfully intrusive, at least in potential, if not in practice. Just like how the grocery store collects your data with the bar coded “discount” cards, there is a great deal of potential for abuse, even if all they really want to know are what products people are buying. This information could be used to figure out how to better pitch regular attendance to everyone but retired people.

Of course, surveillance is a classical form of social control, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Maybe just the idea that they might be tracking your attendance and that this will affect whether or not you get a good calling will be enough to boost attendance.

48 Replies to “The Mark of the Bar Code”

  1. In response to your #1 point – you are right that if a recommend was stolen, it could still be used – but this may be better able to keep out members that leave the faith and are willing to return to “hget the dirt” for the anti’s.

    My thoughts are there are going to be big changes in the ceremony and this will keep the anti-mormons at bay better than they could with the old system.

  2. If it is stolen or lost, the old number would be de-activated when you get a new one. It is not a total protection but it allow for greater control.

    Does David J still get one? That would be the ultimate test for me 🙂

  3. “Maybe just the idea that they might be tracking your attendance and that this will affect whether or not you get a good calling will be enough to boost attendance.”

    If high temple attendance means big calling, attendance may decrease. 😉

  4. Don’t worry, it’s not so sinister as you are suspecting it might be.

    There actually is a problem with Temple recommends being stolen and just as Chris suggests, the barcode allows for easy deactivation.

    Or, as my bishop joked: a third alternative reason is that the Lord is trying to teach us to plan better. The barcode recommends take a couple days to activate. No more visiting the stake president an hour before your planned temple visit

  5. “While it might prevent the reuse of expired cards that are forged, it doesn’t do anything to prevent the use of current cards that are stolen or that disaffected members might give away.”

    I think Chris H. has a good point: a centralized “no fly” list could prevent some misuse.

  6. Another thing I have heard from some folks in the temples where this was pioneered for the last couple of years is that getting all of this in electronic format allows them to easily verify that you have a temple recommend when you forget yours. It seems like this happens every time I go to a wedding, someone from a far off place has forgotten or misplaced their recommend and everyone is waiting trying to make sure they can come in. Supposedly, with the new system, they can quickly verify who you are and get you in without calling your stake president (the old way). Whatever the real reason behind the whole system is, that is a pretty good benefit.

  7. Yep, the ability to deactivate a card for whatever reason (it is stolen; a recommend is rescinded but not turned in; etc.) does indeed provide better security on all sorts of levels I think.

  8. a centralized “no fly” list could prevent some misuse.

    This sounds like a lot of new work for bishoprics. On what basis would a valid temple recommend be “deactivated”? If the person doesn’t come to church for 1 month? 6 months? It seems that it would be very difficult to make this call.

    Again, maybe it is just me, but it seems that the damage has already been done with disaffected members getting in and that this really isn’t such a widespread problem as to cause a change in the system, at least not this late in the game.

  9. I think the motive here is probably benign. The Church just wants to track general population patterns of temple attendance, so they can tailor their messages, and better determine where new temples need to be.

    But here’s my problem. The bar codes are now in place. It’s just a teeny little step for some ex-BYU Honor Code gestapo blowhard working in the Church Office Building to start suggesting tracking INDIVIDUALS.

    At the general population area, I have no real objections to this kind of data mining. But at the individual level, I deeply object.

    How often I attend the temple is between me, my God and possibly my Bishop (in limited circumstances). It’s frankly, none of the Church Office Building’s business what I’m doing temple-wise. To interject a “big-brother” style monitoring of temple attendance, or to even give the membership the slightest SUSPICION that that they are being monitored, is to introduce a coercive element into our most sacred rituals and ordinances and to profane the Holy Sanctuary.

    I see the administrative perks to this move, and prefer to think it’s motives are benign. But the lingering doubts and the frankly, very easy potential for abuse makes me unable to support this move by the Church.

    I’m opposed.

  10. Seth, I don’t think it has anything to do with tracking, according to my sources.

    I’ve read first-hand accounts of exmormons and people who have never been LDS illicitly getting recommends and gleefully attending a session. A temple recommend generator has also appeared on-line recently, so I don’t think that kind of thing is on the decline. I get hits on my temple website all the time with people searching for things like “buy morman temple recommend.”
    I doubt the number of sneakers-in is significantly large, but it’s happened often enough that the COB is doing what they can to reduce it.

  11. The purpose of the barcode is that if a recommend is stolen, or a person is disfellowshipped, has their name removed, excummunicated, etc. It can be reported and that barcode can be deactivated via the network, rather than having to track the person down and physically take the recommend.

  12. For all of those speaking with authority about the purpose of the bar code, on what basis are you so confident of your opinions?

  13. The instructions I got from my stake president, through MLS, and via communication from the CH regarding them, also I went to the Temple on Saturday and it was discussed there. Also, it has been discussed for sometime on the LDS tech website….

    Lastly, Common Sense.

  14. The Church collects statisitcal data on everything, and I did not say they weren’t collecting stat data. I can guarantee that is not the primary purpose of it. Actually, from the LDS tech website, I learned they’ve done this before, a few decades ago, and it didn’t work out well then. (They tried it where people had to slide a card through a card reader or some such, and people were forgetting to do it and it was causign all sorts of problems.)

    From the same site I read that they had also looked into fingerprint scanners (to be able to not have a paper recommend at all) but that the scanners were to fragile and did not hold up to that much use by that many different people.

    Anyway, there are several threads about it here.

  15. THe only point I was clarifying on was your statement: While it might prevent the reuse of expired cards that are forged, it doesn’t do anything to prevent the use of current cards that are stolen or that disaffected members might give away.

  16. Matt,
    You’re right, except that I still don’t understand the mechanism in place for preventing those who have simply gone inactive or left the church without any official sanction from giving away their recommends, or using them nefariously. My guess is that this is the way that the vast majority of the these already rare cases occur.

  17. I agree, I think (and this is my opinion) that this is intended as more of an answer to the people who call in with a lost or stolen recommends. (From an experience in my local ward, I can say that up to this point, no one really knew what to do when we were asked to call one of these in.)

    Also, I have heard rumors of ex’d members refusing to turn over their recommend. While these fall in the folk story or even ghost story category, If I have heard the story, the chances are someone at CH has too…

  18. I worked on this program as a consultant over a period of about seven years. I shouldn’t go into details, but I will say that the barcode by itself will improve security somewhat. The barcode can be paired with other technologies that are still being evaluated (there is a pilot for fingerprints in the Monticello temple district) that make the system pretty secure. The barcode is probably just a first step.

  19. I should add that I would have blogged about the barcodes in detail week ago and posted an analysis of their strengths and weaknesses if it weren’t for the fact that I worked on this. I’ve even turned down a chance to be interviewed for a SLTrib story. 🙁

  20. I think you are underestimating the simple physical security angle — those who run temples have a duty (to the patrons) to provide basic security. It’s no different from airlines and the careful security measures they have in place to prevent unauthorized individuals from getting onto airplanes and to know exactly who is on any given flight that’s in the air. Granted, you can’t shoot down a temple, but to prevent other bad things from happening it makes sense that temples have better control over who is admitted and be able to know exactly who, at any given time, is (or was) physically inside that temple.

    It also makes perfect sense that they want to have a centralized and effective method to eliminate this “bogus temple recommend” industry and to be able to cancel recommends of those individuals who request that their membership be cancelled or who are exed or disfellowshipped.

  21. ARJ, it was my understanding the fingerprint scanning was dumped in light of having to clean and replace scanners due to their getting dirty too fast…?

  22. Tim (#24),

    The people I worked with had a scripture from the D&C that they cited as the being the basis of this effort. I’ve made a quick effort to locate it but I’ve failed. The gist of it was that effort should be made to protect the temple from those that shouldn’t enter. I’m sorry I can’t find the exact reference.

    Matt W.

    I’d prefer not to discuss implementation details much. There are a lot of different fingerprint readers on the market that all have various pros and cons. My understanding is that one model was tested in Monticello. Other models might be under investigation, and it is possible that something new comes on the market in the next few years that does a better job. Honestly I think there is a much better biometric than fingerprints for this application.

  23. TT: I still don’t understand the mechanism in place for preventing those who have simply gone inactive or left the church without any official sanction from giving away their recommends, or using them nefariously

    This bar code idea won’t solve that problem of course. But if it does deal with officially rescinded or lost recommends that is better than nothing I suspect. Certainly the fact that this step is not a panacea is not a reason to dump the entire idea. I suspect the goal is to increase security even if they cannot make security absolutely foolproof.

    BTW — My first recommend in Southern California in 1989 came with a bar code in its holder that they used to swipe. I think they were testing the idea then but the technology apparently was not up to snuff at the time.

  24. Clark,

    Having worked in the biometrics industry for a while I can assure you that good fingerprint readers are reliable and very difficult to fake. Optical readers that can be fooled with a gummi bear are very 5 years ago.

    Geoff J,

    No, it came with a very unreliable mag stripe holder.


    You are on the right track.

  25. Seth R (#10),

    Last I heard the amount of tracking that would be done was a matter of debate. My personal preference is to leave it at zero, which is where it is at currently. Aggregate tracking for a report to bishops would be ok with me, individual tracking would not.

  26. I feel tickled to have a discussion result from a comment of mine. I’m all in favor the present move as well as anything we can do to improve security at the temple. Just because nothing tragic has happened (ie, someone using a stolen recommend while packing a firearm) inside a temple doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen. This measure along with others should provide additional deterrence to existing security measures.

    This all goes to say that I have no idea about specific security arrangements at temples, though having worked as an intern at the COB a couple years ago I’m well aware of how much surveillance takes place around temple square and would think that something similar already exists at many temples to prevent foul play.

  27. Chris H.: Does David J. still get one? That would be the ultimate test for me.

    I suppose if I wanted one, I could still get one. But I can’t truthfully answer all the questions correctly, and they still insist on giving me one every time. Try it sometime. Tell them you broke the WoW, and they’ll still give you one.

    Seriously, it’s about data collection and control. The Mormon church is obsessed with accounting and the submission and transmission of numbers. We even take 20 minutes in the spring sessions of conference and give a statistical report which is supposed to be conducted by “independent CPA firms” (as if that ads credibility to an already corrupt field – just as Arthur Anderson). And then there’s the hypersensitive elders quorum president who has to get HT numbers “in to Salt Lake” before the 15th of the month. The bar-coded recommend is another implement to measure volume, attendance, and flow. As far as security, I don’t think that temples are a target, and as far as antis “getting in,” they largely know what’s going on – one can even get printed versions of dialog online (and I’ve even seen pirated versions of the film). I think the future of anti-Mormonism will swing away from temple ritual.

  28. David J,

    The security measures are not aimed so much at anti-Mormons as at people that want to get in to participate in or witness ordinances. That said, effective security won’t make too many assumptions about someone’s motives for wanting to enter.

  29. David J,
    No offense, but is there anybody you like? Of the CPAs I’ve met, and the Big (now) 4 firms I’ve dealt with, they’ve almost all been fastidious, honest, and good. Arthur Andersen didn’t have systemic problems: they had two really bad partners in Texas. In a firm that employed thousands of accountants, probably well over 98, 99% were good accountants. If the DoJ had thought in advance, the firm would probably (for better) still be around.

    We take 20 minutes every spring in conference? No, we take more like 5 (I know, because I almost invariably miss it, because I expect it to start later and last longer than it does); I don’t know the accountants the Church hires to do its audits or their standards, but I feel like it’s worth giving them the same benefit of the doubt that we (or at least I) give any professional: that they are competent at their job, and do it well, unless otherwise proven.

    (Sorry for the rant, but I hate people making broad, sweeping negative generalizations of professions for no apparent reason, whether the maligned profession involves attorneys, accountants, academics, contractors, or whatever. Unless it’s a good joke, and ideally one I haven’t heard before.)

  30. David J,
    The first sentence came out harsher than I meant it. I was responding to your “as if that ad[d]s credibility to an already corrupt field.” I can’t think, however, of a field of human endeavour that doesn’t include at least a couple bad apples; if they make the field (and, by implication, everybody in the field) corrupt, then there’s no hope for finding anybody not tainted by corruption, either because of their own actions or the actions of people who do the same thing they do.

  31. Re 35,

    I should have been clearer on what I mean by keeping the riffraff out. I’m aware that most of what we hold sacred is in print online (and in some cases video). My concerns about security were more geared towards the more deranged segment of society that would target a place of worship with violence. Seeing how many members view temples as ‘protected by the Lord’, having such an event occur would undoubtedly shake some testimonies.

  32. Sam B., I am (technically, “was” – I let my license expire) a CPA, and I’m telling you that people may be nice, but the field itself practically bends to the will of the one being audited, usually because those doing the auditing are spread too thin among too many clients. For example, what could a second year auditing manager possibly know about about potential financial hazards among the five or so companies he audits? Very little. Now that I’m back in industry finance, I’m telling you that we sweep a lot under the rug that the auditors don’t know about. Public auditing in this country is just a facade – it keeps the honest people honest, but does nothing for those who are deliberately dishonest. It’s another “virtual control” that the government has in place (like the TSA, DHS, and DoD). And I don’t think it’s just a few bad apples – CPA firms are repeatedly under fire. That’s why many of them are structured as LLCs – the limited liability is a huge potential hazard, and they need the legal protection because legal action is often taken against them. All this is background to my comment above that the church touts that it has statistical and numerical accuracy because of independent CPA firms (or segmentation of data collection and reporting), when based on the 5 or so years experience I had in the field, I can tell you that in reality the church is telling the CPA firms what to report. It’s sad, but true.

    And no, there is nobody else that I like, except for myself. 🙂

    I only brought up antis because somebody else did it above. If you read what I wrote, you’ll see that I actually don’t think they’re a threat to the temple, nor is the church bar-coding its recommends to thwart them. My point is that the church is probably bar-coding to track numbers – volume, flow, and timing. They’ll also be able to tell how often you go, where you go, what time you go, etc. etc. Again, with an organization that is hyper-sensitive to numbers, bar-coding the recommend fits perfectly with the things they want to know.

  33. David J,
    Okay, I bow to your (far) superior familiarity with accountants; I’ve come at it from the PoV of an attorney, where I know we aren’t being told everything, and the accountants I’ve interacted with have been, uniformly, as far as I know, good. But I have to admit that some of them have been dealing with the aftermath of not-so-good accountants. And I agree about the pointless “virtual controls” of TSA and DHS, and I’d probably agree with DoD, but I know very little about DoD, and am slowly learning not to broadly address things I know little about.

    Thanks, btw, for the polite response to an (unintentionally and unfortunately) snarky comment.

  34. Jon in Austin (#38),

    If you want to do violence in a temple it is simply a matter of walking right in and doing it. A fake rec isn’t really an obstacle. Legend has it that armed men stormed the Sao Paulo Temple at one point in search of solid gold cows.

  35. Sam, I’m used to the snarky comments of others. Hell, I encourage them and tend to bring them out in people with the simplest of ease. No offense taken, and no apology necessary.

    Don’t get me wrong, I know excellent accountants, but I also know that those of us that were in auditing were extremely eager to get out, mainly because it wasn’t just our bosses telling us what to do (even though many of them had no clue what they were doing), but the corporations we audited were telling us what to do. I hope I’m wrong, but I suspect that church auditing functions the same way. Imagine the scenario – you’re a faithful Mormon who is auditing the church and you’re sitting across from the church’s representative who reports directly to Hinckley (it’s still Hinckley, right?). What are you going to do? Follow the prophet or something else? It’s probably very difficult for them, and I suspect there’s a lot of give and take.

    I agree with ARJ – nothing is stopping anybody from storming a temple except for a couple of old men in their 70s and 80s. You could just push them out of the way and do what you want. That’s why the bar code isn’t about increased security (an understandable misconception given the propaganda we’ve been getting hit with over “security” [read: coercion & control] for the last 6 years), but I think it’s about numbers – possibly to understand where people are going and where they can cut costs and expenses to accommodate demand.

  36. Having worked in the biometrics industry for a while I can assure you that good fingerprint readers are reliable and very difficult to fake. Optical readers that can be fooled with a gummi bear are very 5 years ago.

    John, out of curiosity did you see Mythbusters where they busted supposedly a top bimetric scanner with a scanned copy of the finger print, a copy of photoshop and some old school gelatin? (The way you used to make copies) Then they tried just using photoshop by printing to a transparency. It was pretty surprising how well it worked.

  37. Clark,

    I did not see that. It is well known that optical scanners are easily fooled by a variety of methods. I rarely see optical scanners on unattended readers today. Most scanners are getting an image by measuring capacitance or resistivity and are actually reading pretty deep into the skin rather than just the surface image. They also have liveness detection in the form of temperature and conductivity requirements, to the point where cutting off someones finger won’t work unless you use it almost instantly.

    Optical scanners are still deployed in some situations where the scanning is administered by someone else, such as in a police station during booking.

    David J,

    You have missed some of my point. This may or may not be about measurement, (like I said that is up in the air) but it is definitely about security. Just not about stopping someone from barging in.

  38. Clark,

    I found some of the video here. I didn’t get a good enough view of the reader to tell what brand it is, but it is clearly an optical reader, as indicated by the fact that it emits a lot of red light. I’ve seen demos of gummi fingerprints working on optical readers and then failing on capacitive readers, but I will admit that nobody licked anything.

  39. There is clearly a bright red LED illuminating the inside of the door reader. The clip I saw did not show the laptop reader.

  40. Re 41,

    Having served in Fortaleza I would love to see that story in print (assuming its something other than a Brazilian Mormon Urban Legend).

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