Posted on 1 March 2020 in Biometrics

Securing Identities: Biometric Technologies and the Enactment of Human Bodily Differences

Worldwide, biometrics are quickly becoming the preferred solution to a wide range of problems involving identity checking.

Worldwide, biometrics are quickly becoming the preferred solution to a wide range of problems involving identity checking. Biometrics are claimed to provide more secure identification and verification, because ‘the body does not lie.’ Yet, every biometric check consists of a process with many intermediate steps, introducing contingency and choice on many levels. In addition, there are underlying normative assumptions regarding human bodies that affect the functioning of biometric systems in highly problematic ways.

In recent social science studies, the failures of biometric systems have been interpreted as gendered and racialized biases. A more nuanced understanding of how biometrics and bodily differences intersect draws attention to how bodily differences are produced, used, and problematized during the research and design phases of biometric systems, as well as in their use. In technical engineering research, issues of biometrics’ performance and human differences are already transformed into R&D challenges in variously more and less problematic ways.

In daily practices of border control, system operators engage in workarounds to make the technology work well with a wide range of users. This shows that claims about ‘inherent whiteness’ of biometrics should be adjusted: relationships between biometric technologies, gender and ethnicity are emergent, multiple and complex. Moreover, from the viewpoint of theorizing gender and ethnicity, biometrics’ difficulties in correctly recognising pre-defined categories of gender or ethnicity may be less significant than its involvement in producing and enacting (new) gender and ethnic classifications and identities.

Excerpt written by Sanneke Kloppenberg & Irma van der Ploeg. Their full article can be found here.


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