No to Biometrics

At the end of the 19th century, when Galion in England began his research into fingerprinting and when Bertillon in France invented judicial photography "for anthropometric identification" (the term of the times), such procedures were exclusively reserved for recidivist criminals.

Today, one sees the beginnings of a society in which one proposes to apply to every citizen the devices that had only been destined for delinquents. According to a project that is already on the road to realization, the normal relationship of the State to what Rousseau called the "members of the soveriegn" will be biometric, that is to say, generalized suspicion.

Under the pressure of the growing depolitization of post-industrial societies, the citizenry is progressively withdrawing from all political participation and seeing itself more and more treated like virtual criminals. Thus the political body becomes a criminal body.

The dangers of such a situation are obvious to all, except those who simply refuse to see. One doesn't quite know if the photos that permitted the Nazi police forces in the occupied countries to locate and record the Jews, thus facilitating their deportation, were originally identity cards or professional cards. What will happen when a despotic power makes use of the biometric records of an entire population?

It is all the more worrisome that the European countries, after imposing biometric supervision [controle] over immigrants, are now preparing to impose it on all of their citizens. The reasons of security invoked in favor of these odious practices are not convincing, because, if they can contribute to the prevention of recidivism, they are certainly useless in preventing a first crime or act of terrorism. On the other hand, they are perfectly efficacious for the massive control of individuals. The day when biometric supervision has become generalized and surveillance by [video] camera will be established along all the streets, all critique and all dissent will have become impossible.

The young students who on 17 November [2005] destroyed the biometric gates [bornes] to the canteen of the Gir-sur-Yvette High School[1] have shown that they care quite a bit more about individual liberties and democracy than those who decided upon or accepted their installation without flinching.

I express my solidarity with these French students and publically declare that I will refuse to be a party to all biometric supervision and that I am ready to renounce my passport as well as all pieces of identity.

Giorgio Agamben[2]
Le Monde, 5 December 2005

(Translated from the French by NOT BORED! 9 October 2006.)

[1] At noon on 17 November 2005, twenty singing clowns entered the refectory of this high school, which is located near the technopolis of Saclay, in which a variety of high-tech laboratories are based. During an improvised performance, while tracts were given out, two biometric readers were totally destroyed by hammer blows. The damage was estimated at more than 15,000 Euros. Three people were eventually questioned, detained and arrested by the police. On 17 February 2006, they were all convicted, fined 500 Euro and sentenced to three months in prison.

[2] Giorgio Agamben is a professor of philosophy at the University of Venice, Italy. He is the author of a great many significant works, including Homo Sacer (1995) and The State of Exception (2002). In 2004, he gave up a position at New York University rather than submit to the biometric visa requirements required by the United States government. In December 2005, he attended a public show of support for the arrested French students; at this rally, he publically declared his intention to refuse all biometric identity papers, European or national.

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