Accepted Paper:

Negotiating "Biometric Futures": Promises, Politics and Biometric Identification in Israel  


Michelle Spektor (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the controversy over a new biometric identification program in Israel. Suggesting that the “promise” of biometric identification technologies is tied to disparate visions of the “biometric future,” it considers how renderings of the future shape the program’s present trajectory.

Paper long abstract:

In Israel, attempts by the Ministry of Interior to create a new biometric identification program comprised of a digital database and "smart" national IDs containing the index fingerprints and facial recognition data of all Israeli citizens have generated significant political debate. The controversy concerns forward-looking statements about the benefits biometric identification technologies will bestow or the havoc they will wreak, and the possible "biometric futures" they will bring. The program's supporters, primarily government ministry and hi-tech industry representatives, claim that biometric identification will eliminate identity theft, enhance national security, and advance technological innovation. Meanwhile, a group of academic experts in computer science, information science, and law have attempted to derail the implementation of the biometric database by asserting that, in addition to violating civil liberties, an inevitable breach of the database would create unprecedented security risks. Drawing upon two years of archival and ethnographic fieldwork in Israel, this presentation uses "promise" as a lens to consider the articulation of contradictory forward-looking statements about biometric identification technologies. It considers the actors who claim the credibility of their disparate expectations of the biometric identification program, the infrastructures and political relationships that might influence its outcomes, and the how renderings of the "biometric future" shape its present trajectory. Suggesting that the "promise" of biometric identification technologies is tied to technologically-driven visions of the future, this presentation argues that the debate over Israel's biometric identification program is just as much a struggle over current technology and politics as it is over promissory "biometric futures."

Panel T094
Emerging science and technology : questioning the regime of promising