Introduction: Biopolitics of Biometrics
In 2001, biometrics was named by the inﬂuential MIT Technology Review “one of the ‘top ten emerging technologies that will change the world’ ” (Woodward et al. 2003, xxiii). Soon after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., the biometrics industry was further catapulted into the international spotlight by governments eager to deploy biometric systems in order to allay concerns about national security. Situated in this heady context, biometrics is too often represented as a technology with extraordinary powers and, simultaneously, as a technology that has only recently emerged on the historical stage. As I proceed to demonstrate in Chapt er 1, biometrics has a long and compl ex hist orical genea logy that must be tracked back to the nineteenth century and the concomitant emergence of biopolitics (a term I will presently discuss in some detail). Once located within this complex genealogy, the extraordinary powers attributed to biometric technologies, in particular, ongoing pronouncements from both its manufacturers and advocates that they are neutral and objective technologies unmarked by issues of prejudice or bias, are shown to be untenable. In the course of this book, I proceed to argue that biometrics, as a technol-
ogy of authentication and veriﬁcation, achieves its signifying status only by being situated within relations of power and disciplinary techniques predicated on individuating, identifying, classifying and distributing the templates of biometrically enrolled subjects across complex political, social and legal networks. As such, biometrics is a technology ﬁrmly enmeshed within relations of biopower. The emergence of the biopolitical state, Michel Foucault (2008, 34) underscores, is marked by the installing of the veridictional question, “the question of truth,” at the core of its criminological operations. The question: “What have you done?” is now replaced with the question: “Who are you?” (Foucault 2008, 34). The foundational question of biometric technologies is precisely “Who are you?” The key premise of this book is that this biometric question is repeatedly made coextensive, in the biopolitical operations of biometric technologies, with what you are. As I discuss in some detail in the chapters that follow, the answer to the question “Who are you?” pivots on the speciﬁcity of a subject’s embodiment and her or his geopolitical status.
What you are-a person of colour and/or an asylum seeker-determines the answering of who you are. In marking the indissociable relation between this foundational biometric
question and the exercise of biopolitical power, I argue that, as contemporary instrumentalities of biopolitics, biometric technologies are inscribed with infrastructural relations of disciplinary power underpinned by normative categories of race, gender, (dis)ability, sexuality, class and age. As I contend throughout the course of this book, it is the invisibilised, because infrastructural, status of these normative categories that allows for ongoing pronouncements about the technology’s neutral and non-discriminatory capability. Following from this premise, my concern is to begin to map the ways in which biometric technologies operate as systems for the discrimination of non-normative subjects, including people of colour, refugees and asylum seekers, transgender subjects, labourers and people with disabilities. Framing biometrics within the conceptual schema of biopolitics will enable the ﬂeshing out of the complex intersection of bodies, subjects, technologies and power and the consequent articulation of the lived eﬀects of biometrics as apparatuses of biopower. In what follows, I proceed to delineate the major politico-theoretical
concerns of this book and to clarify the key terms that constitute its critical apparatus of inquiry.