Biometric and surveillance technologies make everyone a suspect of no specific charge. They are the principles of measure and classification applied to skin contours, eye, bone, gait, voice, affect, comportment. They are the border guard’s question of ‘Halt, who goes there?’ – the interrogative which seeks identification as the condition of crossing – multiplied and (post) industrialised. Recognition technologies surmount Orwell’s cherished distinction between public and private spaces, all the way down into the body, internalising the citizen’s yearning for that distinction’s resurrection, as the re-privatisation of dissent and difference. They are supposed to make one long to pass, to belong, as a good citizen might. Even so, as the high-tech offspring of phrenology and eugenics, bundled as security doctrine, the most notable features of biometrics and surveillance are the scandals of (sometimes lethal) misrecognition, their cost, and their remarkable failure. Certain identification is recurrently disoriented by movement. Someone grimaces, another turns around, or moves just a little, runs too fast, speaks through the fog of a blocked nose, fidgets nervously, walks on. Racial profiling, for all its aggressive materiality, remains a discretionary and actuarial operation. Movements can only be captured as data or image after they occur. What makes bodies unlike things is where the technologies of recognition falter.
First published in Mute vol. 2#9, 2008
A contribution to the Crosswords print issue by Angela Mitropoulos for Mute, London/UK