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America Identified

America Identified: Biometric Technology and Society

Lisa S. Nelson
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    America Identified
    Book Description:

    The use of biometric technology for identification has gone from Orwellian fantasy to everyday reality. This technology, which verifies or recognizes a person's identity based on physiological, anatomical, or behavioral patterns (including fingerprints, retina, handwriting, and keystrokes) has been deployed for such purposes as combating welfare fraud, screening airplane passengers, and identifying terrorists. The accompanying controversy has pitted those who praise the technology's accuracy and efficiency against advocates for privacy and civil liberties. In America Identified, Lisa Nelson investigates the complex public responses to biometric technology. She uses societal perceptions of this particular identification technology to explore the values, beliefs, and ideologies that influence public acceptance of technology. Drawing on her own extensive research with focus groups and a national survey, Nelson finds that considerations of privacy, anonymity, trust and confidence in institutions, and the legitimacy of paternalistic government interventions are extremely important to users and potential users of the technology. She examines the long history of government systems of identification and the controversies they have inspired; the effect of the information technology revolution and the events of September 11, 2001; the normative value of privacy (as opposed to its merely legal definition); the place of surveillance technologies in a civil society; trust in government and distrust in the expanded role of government; and the balance between the need for government to act to prevent harm and the possible threat to liberty in government's actions.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-28968-9
    Subjects: Law, Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    The widespread use of biometric technology—child of science fiction, crime dramas, and political theorizations throughout much of the twentieth century—has become a reality. The number of biometric identifiers available for the purpose of authenticating identity is diverse and expanding, prompting a range of reactions, concerns, and regulatory challenges. Biometric technology uses a biometric pattern—physiological,¹ anatomical, or behavioral attributes—to link individuals to biometric patterns. These attributes, ever evolving, now include fingerprints, voice, iris, retina, hand, face, handwriting, and keystroke, among a list of emerging alternatives. In broadest terms, biometric technologies “are automated methods of verifying or recognizing...

  5. 1 Modern Identification Systems
    (pp. 27-58)

    Whether for the purpose of solving a murder as in Mark Twain’sPudd’nhead Wilson,identifying recidivist criminals, limiting immigration, readying the nation for war, or dealing with external and internal threats, systems of identification have long had many objectives. But whatever the objectives of the systems of identification, technical shortcomings have limited their effectiveness. Early on, the use of names and forms of identification by human sight quickly revealed the inadequacies of such systems. Manipulation, false representations, and misidentification drove the evolution of systems of identification, some more reliable and accurate than others. Bodily characteristics, which could not be altered,...

  6. 2 September 11: A Catalyst for Biometrics?
    (pp. 59-80)

    While September 11 heightened the controversy over biometric identification systems, the increasing reliance on the currency of personal information had already set in motion the grounds for public awareness of the consequences of an increasing presence of information technology in our day-to-day lives. Rule (2007) aptly described this:

    Organizations are constantly finding new ways of capturing, transmitting, and using personal data, for purposes defined by the organizations rather than those depicted in the data. Supermarkets track our purchases; government agencies track our travels, transactions, communications, and associations; insurers and employers monitor our medical histories and genetic makeup; retailers monitor our...

  7. 3 Privacy and Biometric Technology
    (pp. 81-104)

    Privacy concerns are inseparable from biometric technology, but how biometric technology affects and is affected by privacy is complicated. Privacy is a multifaceted concept that finds its way into discussions about private property, intimate decision making, secrecy, personhood, and the limits of governmental intervention. Add to this complexity the wide variety of settings in which biometric technology can be deployed, and a vast array of privacy concerns is triggered. Societal assessment of biometric systems of identification hinges not only on the diverse meanings of privacy that individuals pin on their interests, but on the many different points of interaction they...

  8. 4 Anonymity
    (pp. 105-130)

    Privacy as it relates to personal information and the presence of surveillance and information technologies must be modified by the principles of anonymity and decisional autonomy. This is because privacy is limited by the markers of space and visibility.¹ In contrast, the idea of anonymity has served an important purpose in preserving some degree of private space for political opposition and the expression of ideas, while decisional autonomy has been a necessary condition for fostering participation in political life, allowing the individual to make choices about associational and private life. Julie Cohen (2000) identified the cornerstone of a democratic society...

  9. 5 Trust and Confidence
    (pp. 131-158)

    The interest in trust and confidence appears most notably in discussions of its role in civic engagement and societal functioning, and within organizational settings. Seminal works like those of Robert Putnam (1993), which explored the role of trust in civic engagement, and Francis Fukuyama (1995), which acknowledged the critical function of trust in societal functioning, have fueled an exploration of the role of trust within social systems. The issues of transaction costs, sociability among individuals, and deference to authority have defined the landscape of methodological inquiry (Levi and Stoker 2000). The benefits of trust as a social resource are obvious....

  10. 6 Paternalism
    (pp. 159-184)

    In the information society, there is an ever-growing need to authenticate individuals. Biometric technology has emerged as a means for authentication, but it has still to fully win over societal acceptance. Societal apprehensions regarding biometric technologies include the encroachment on individual liberty by public and private sector institutions, which rely on identity assurance for objectives ranging from combating consumer fraud to fighting the war on terror. These regulating technologies—or those that regulate or influence human behavior—are novel in many ways, but they still represent a form of control over individuals, an issue long debated in discussions over the...

  11. 7 Conclusion
    (pp. 185-196)

    Societal acceptance of biometric technology involves conflicting considerations. Individuals may accept biometric systems of identification for the purpose of identity assurance in an array of circumstances and in a variety of public and private institutional settings, while having concerns about the potential loss of liberty that might occur with the misuse of biometric identifiers. Biometric systems of identification can serve the purpose of protecting the currency of personal information with identity assurance, but the development and deployment of biometric technology must also acknowledge the limits of individual liberty.

    The implications of biometric systems of identification for individual liberty requires a...

  12. Appendix A: Safety of Identifiers: Factors of Education
    (pp. 197-202)
  13. Appendix B: Differences of Identity
    (pp. 203-210)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 211-224)
  15. References
    (pp. 225-238)
  16. Index
    (pp. 239-258)