The Findable Cyborg Part 4

CALL-AfghanBiometrics[1]The US military has an ongoing project in Afghanistan to collect comprehensive biometric data for the entire population. Derik Gregory’s post Biometric War, outlines the program and links to a number of resources helpful in understanding it. One of these is Public Intelligence’s  Identity Dominance: The U.S. Military’s Biometric War in Afghanistan

Despite this lack of formal doctrine, the U.S. military is currently using more than 7,000 devices to collect biometric data from the Afghan population. .. [T]he biometric identifiers being collected in Afghanistan consist primarily of fingerprints, iris scans and facial photographs.  Other biological characteristics, which are referred to as modalities, that can be used to identify a person include certain types of voice patterns, palm prints, DNA, as well as behavioral characteristics such as gait and even keystroke patterns on a keyboard…. The stated goal of the Afghan effort is no less than the collection of biometric data for every living person in Afghanistan. .. [T]he collection of biometric data is not simply about “identifying terrorists and criminals,” but that “it can be used to enable progress in society and has countless applications for the provision of services to the citizens of Afghanistan.”

The lack of formal doctrine is, I think, important.  The Army has operated the program since 2010.  A doctrine would both define the program’s objectives and methods, and exclude other possible uses.

The Army does say that the program is useful “with identifying terrorists and criminals”.  Who can argue with that?   This data is increasingly used for criminal prosecutions. However, the Army has not discussed the accuracy of the scans, and forensic evidence they are compared to.  So its hard to evaluate  the soundness of the convictions in Afghanistan this program has been instrumental in obtaining. Many of these were obtained on the sole evidence of biometrics. The Army has not specified the number of convictions obtained, nor the what are the “countless other applications it foresees”. The lack of formal doctrine creates a freedom to pursue uses without justification.  In a paper Dr. Gregory cites Colleen B. Bell discusses this.

That is, this emergent technology is poised to capture peoples’ biometrics without their consent or knowledge…It also offers the chance to scan whole populations deemed problematic or risky. It is one way forward in the trend towards automating warfare. The course underway suggests that spaces of the global South deemed to be terrorist havens, actual or perhaps even potential zones of conflict are key targets for the development and implementation of new regimes of securitization. This pattern of activity is consistent with experiments in preliberal government that animated colonial rule…

Colonial modes of governance were also experiments in public order, … render[ing] colonized peoples and spaces as laboratories for the limits and possibilities for disciplinary rule (1999:108–111).

Though the hierarchy of relations between the North and South is not one of direct colonial control, in attempting to secure the identity of crisis populations — and by extension the future — there is a rejuvenation of earlier forms of colonial governance evident in the patterns of illiberal governance over subject populations in which local control is circumscribed by coalition mandates, sovereignty is contingent, and practices that are legally taboo in metropolitan settings are permissible in borderlands settings. Grey’s Anatomy Goes South:  Global Racism and Suspect Identities in the Colonial Present  Colleen D. Bell

Drones as an instrument of warfare have received much attention, becoming a cultural trope.  Pervasive biometric gathering and analysis has not.  Yet biometrics are essential if remote forms of warfare, like drones, are to succeed in their cultural/mythic mission to create a discourse of surgical war, that appears always bloodless for the surgeon and beneficial to the etherized patient.

The gathering of meta data, also receives much attention in the West.  Even as many object to it, it’s scale creates a remote, abstract quality.  The individual scale of the practices that create the data make their benefits much more concrete

Right now, the technology of gathering biometric data is very much “in your face”.  Perhaps the technology being developed now in Afghanistan make that untrue in the future.   Perhaps in the near future, not only our financial and communicative movements, but our public bodily movements will make us always findable.

One thought on “The Findable Cyborg Part 4

  1. This is certainly within the scope of history of western colonial powers using non-white peoples as guniea pigs (Puerto Rican women and birth control, for example) for a greater capitalist gain. The unclear point with this experiment, is what is the end-game of this? You hint at this with “Perhaps in the near future, not only our financial and communicative movements but our public bodily movements will make us always finable”. Yikes! I don’t think this analysis is too fantastical, unfortunately.

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