Configuring the Face as a Technology of Citizenship: Biometrics, Surveillance, and the Facialization of Institutional Identity

By Joseph Ferenbok.

Published by The Technology Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

Biometric technologies have been touted as the Holy Grail of identification and, by extension, security—promising reliable real-time machine-assisted identification. Despite significant technological merits of competing biometric solutions (Daugman, 2004; Hope-Tindall, 2004; Maghiros et al., 2005), Face Recognition Technology (FRT) have gained significant momentum since 9/11. FRT have an established protocol for standardized testing and comparison: FERET (Phillips, Moon, Rauss, &Rizvi, 1997), and have been selected as the primary biometric for machine-readable travel documents by the International Civil Aviation Organization (Biometrics deployment of Machine Readable Travel Documents 2004, 2004). This momentum is indicative of what Wolfe et al. (2002) describe as the acceptability of a technological alternative. And when faced with alternative technologies, FRT seem to be the most benign.

In practice, faces are already used as visual signifiers of institutional identity (eg. a driver’s license) and citizenship (eg. Passports) in Western Culture. Consequentially, basing national biometric identification schemes could be viewed simply as a technological extension of existing practices—the status quo. But technologies have politics, and face-based biometrics not only make network surveillance conceivable, but may also one day allow for human identification at a distance. Yet very few questions have been asked about the modern Facialization of identity. What are some of the implications of the FRT? And how do face-based biometric technologies alter the status quo? The implementation of the face as the central technology of modern institutional identification practices may ultimately change the social constructions of the face. This paper discusses the theoretical position of the face as an abstract technology of ideology and citizenship with a broader study of institutional identification systems and their implications for national identity and security.

Keywords: Face Recognition Technologies, Biometrics, Institutional Identity, Facialization of Identity

International Journal of Technology, Knowledge and Society, Volume 3, Issue 6, pp.29-36. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 499.991KB).

Joseph Ferenbok

PhD. Student, Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


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