Stage 4
15:30 - 16:00
Systems of Biometric Control

Short thesis

The rise of biometrics has led to a new kind of ubiquitous surveillance capacity. Countries and corporations have paired human-identifying biometric technologies with automated decision making. Because many of these technologies are secretive and proprietary, we have very few ways to keep these systems accountable. In this session, Adam Harvey and Matthew Stender will demonstrate the ways that humans are being deconstructed into a sum of their personally identifiable parts. Their examination will focus on the cutting-edge technical means by which our bodies are quantified by biometric capture systems. This assessment will critique the ways these system erode human agency and create a new paradigm for technically mediated ethics.


Biometric sensors are used by governments, corporations and even NGOs to perceive unique identifiers for individual humans. This session will parse the distinction between two types of biometric traits (hard and soft) - those that we possess and those that we perform - and discuss how both are increasingly being used as unique identifiers to catalogue our whereabouts, categorize our actions and customize our experiences.

These automated biometric systems, created by humans are increasing religating humanity ‘out of the loop’. Simultaneously, humans are unable to hide or escape from the view of machines. Without oversight or accountability, humans changes the way they operate in the physical space, eroding their agency. The ethnographic and anthropological implications  of the biometric shape more than individual behavior and can even lead to a “flattening of culture.” From data modeling leads to replication of discrimination to biometric product design doesn’t account for non-able bodied persons, technology will increasingly leave its fingerprint on human society. Finally, forced participation in these systems brings up philosophical questions as to what constitutes human rights in the 21st century.

Beyond traditional access control mechanisms (like an undergoing an eye scan to enter into a secure facility), collective biometrics now give those in power the capacity for predictive analysis through future modeling. Micromovements can now be disambiguated to tell stories about our human bodies that we ourselves may be unaware of.