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Biometrics

Biometric technologies justify high tech racial profiling where bias is magnified—the implementation of biometric allows for the worst form of racialized eugenics justified by economic necessity


Dubrofsky, Magnet 2015 [R. E. Associate Professor (and Affiliated Associate Professor, Departments of Humanities & Cultural Studies and Women's & Gender Studies, & Magnet, S. A. Assistant Professor in the Institute of Women’s Studies and the Department of Criminology at the University of Ottawa. She is a co-editor of The New Media of Surveillance (Eds.). (2015), Feminist Surveillance Studies. Duke University Press.//KHS]

Biometric technologies are accompanied by a whole host of surveillance practices that specificcally focus on the body as we are increasingly locked into what the sociologist Simone Browne calls the “identity-industrial complex,” where the body itself is the central target of surveillance practices (2009). As Hall’s work in this volume demonstrates, the failure of new technologies to keep people safe intersects with their race, class, gender, sexuality, and disabled- or able-bodied identities. One example of this is the ways that the surveillance of disability is facilitated by new reproductive technologies. For instance, the Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act mandates the collection of dna information from every baby born on U.S. soil. The genetic information collected from newborn babies is subject to an increasing number of genetic tests—a number that has dramatically expanded alongside new technological advances (Magnet 2012). Of course, this means the state increasingly screens for disabilities in ways that recall eugenics projects, as new technologies are used as a form of mandated surveillance by the state to facilitate the surveillance of disability. As Dorothy E. Roberts shows in her contribution to this volume, the increase in the number of amniocenteses performed is also part of the surveillance of disability, as “it is increasingly routine for pregnant women to get prenatal diagnoses for certain genetic conditions, such as Down syndrome or dwarfism” (176), even in cases where women do not understand what the test is for or its attendant risks. Of course, new reproductive technologies have different implications for white women and for women of color, and for women in the Global South versus women in the Global North. Roberts reminds us that in 1985 the feminist theorist Gena Corea “predicted that white women would hire surrogates of color in reproductive brothels to be implanted with their eggs and to gestate their babies at low cost” (169), this prediction highlights the differential ways genetic technologies are likely to be accessed. Corea’s prediction has come true, as Sayantani DasGupta and Shamita Das Dasgupta show in their contribution to this volume, which looks at the growing surrogacy industry in India. DasGupta and Dasgupta demonstrate that, for the most part, wealthy women from the Global North, as well as some wealthy Indian citizens, pay to have impoverished or financially struggling Indian women implanted with an embryo via in-vitro fertilization. In this piece, we see how the bodies of women of color are literally put into the service of reproducing empire for another country (often North America, Australia, or Europe) by producing offspring for what is often a white couple, and placed under surveillance to make sure they are doing so properly. Like Smith, DasGupta and Dasgupta demonstrate the urgent need for an analysis of colonialism and colonial practices in surveillance studies. They argue that surveillance practices facilitated by the economic necessity of Indian surrogates pave the way for all kinds of gender, class, and imperialist violences. In examining state attempts—with an orientalist and imperial gaze— to render “terrorist bodies” both pathological and animalistic—Hall illustrates that biotechnologies are deployed to turn these bodies inside out and make them transparent in ways that intensify systemic forms of violence already inflicted on marginalized communities. In her discussion of full-body scanners in U.S. airports, Hall looks at the centering of the notion that white, middle-class, able-bodied, heterosexual passengers should not have their bodily privacy invaded by tsa officials. Race issues are indeed often at the forefront in the marketing of the technologies— for instance, companies aiming to get state institutions to invest in identification technologies claim biometrics will circumvent persistent forms of racial profiling. Biometric technologies render the body in binary code, and industry manufacturers of these technologies claim this code reveals nothing about race, gender, class, or sexuality, instead representing bodies as anesthetized strands of ones and zeroes. However, it is increasingly clear that biometric technologies are in fact a high-tech form of racial and gender profiling that efficiently and quickly sorts people using criteria that often explicitly include race and gender. For example, in order to verify the identity of a particular individual, it would be faster to scan the individual against a smaller group of people with like characteristics, rather than against an entire database. For many biometric technologies, “like characteristics” include race and gender identities. Reifying race and gender in this way through their biometric categorization only serves to intensify existing forms of biological racialism and sexism, in which race and gender are imagined as stable biological properties that can be reliably read off the body.

Birth Certificate

The birth certificate becomes a means for the state to enforce violent gender identity—the state’s need to document identity is founded on a need to police gender-binaries


Moore & Currah 2015 [Lisa Jean Moore Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at the State University of New York, Purchase College. She was born in New York State, received a BA from Tufts University, a Masters of Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley and a PhD from the University of California, and Paisley Currah is Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. "Legally Sexed." Feminist Surveillance Studies (2015): 58-76. Print.

Birth certificates establish the earliest relationship between an individual and the state. The advent of larger, centralized modern state formations puts greater distances between magistrates and citizens, and thus requires standardized systems for identifying and individuating its population (J. C. Scott 1998). Alongside death and marriage certificates, birth certificates are among the “vital statistics” that states use to count, study, and manage their populations (Lunde 1975; Shapiro 1950). These documents are essential for demography—that is, birth rate, mortality rates, fertility, migration—for municipalities and nation-states. Birth certificates aim to make an individual uniquely identifiable, recognizable, and classifiable (Rule et al. 1983; Stevens 1999). In attempting to codify the relationship between an individual and the state, birth certificates constitute one of the technologies of control of modern systems of biopower (Foucault 1976; Foucault 1978). Birth certificates provide benefits and confer responsibilities. They create recognition for the distribution of rights and resources from the state to individuals, such as voting, social security, Medicaid, and welfare benefits. Birth certificates are inscribed with cultural norms and values exercised through legally certified social relations that are expressed through bureaucratically mandated classifications of the parents’ age, marital status, and racial identification. These categories highlight social desires for the organization of human populations based on beliefs about sex, gender, race, and class: binary sexed, biologically driven, heterosexual, racially homogeneous, married families. For example, “legitimacy” is the legal certification of the status of offspring born to parents who are legally married at the time of the infant’s birth.3 Marital status and legitimacy on birth certificates are linked to marriage laws, functioning as disciplinary mechanisms that certify that some births are legitimate while others are not. Racial and ethnic categories have gone through many permutations on the U.S. Census, on marriage licenses, and on birth certificates. Since the early 2000s, many municipalities used the vital statistics categories recognized by the National Center for Health Statistics. The ten categories for race are White, Black, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian, Filipino, Other Asian or Pacific Islander, Other Entries, and Not Reported. In 1864 politicians coined the term miscegenation to refer to the illegal mixing of two or more races as a means to ensure and regulate human reproduction and racial “purity” (Pascoe 2009, 1). As the feminist historian Peggy Pascoe has shown, as late as 1999 antimiscegenation laws included in state constitutions made marriage illegal between a white person and someone with one-eighth or more “negro blood” (ibid., 307). While antimiscegenation laws have been eradicated, racial correlates are used to make arguments about certain types of human births. Case in point: the birth certificate of the president of the United States, Barack Obama, has been dissected and inspected from multiple angles to dispute the legitimacy of his claim to the presidency. Clearly motivated by racist beliefs, the demands of birthers (those who insist on President Obama’s alien status) have revealed their incredulity and discomfort with the fact that an African American man resides in the White House. The birther phenomenon clearly illustrates that birth certificates are rife with politics. In a broader epistemological sense, identity documents do not so much confirm identity as produce and authorize it legally.

The state’s enforcement of birth certification is violent and arbitrary


Moore & Currah 2015 [Lisa Jean Moore Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at the State University of New York, Purchase College. She was born in New York State, received a BA from Tufts University, a Masters of Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley and a PhD from the University of California, and Paisley Currah is Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. "Legally Sexed." Feminist Surveillance Studies (2015): 58-76. Print.

In the lexicon of vital statistics discourse, the birth certificate is referred to as a “breeder document.” That is, it is a primary authenticating identity paper used when applying for other identity documents (New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene 2005). Birth certificates contain descriptions of the sex and birth history of the infant, both of which are understood as fixed pieces of data. Unlike aspects of identity that are recognizably mutable—such as one’s name, appearance, and ability—sex is assumed to be immutable, like place of birth and biological parentage, and is a fundamental characteristic for identifying citizens. Documenting birth through the birth certificate is an attempt to ground with certainty the material embodiment of the baby’s flesh as a gendered legal entity. That is, the state can study, track, educate, tax, and distribute resources to these imagined coherent selves, selves that flow from the entity described in biological terms and affirmed in state documentation. This is also a document that regulates social status, gender roles, and related performances. The dual function of the birth certificate—as documentary record of a historical fact and as a primary identity document—reveals the complex relation between identity documents and shifting identities, and between biological sex and legal gender identity. The more the science of sex advances, the less unitary and the more troubled the notion of sex as a binary concept becomes (Rosario 2002). For instance, according to Gerard Noriel, in 1829 a French doctor petitioned the state to allow doctors, instead of officials, to determine the sex of infants, because “the municipal officials were unable to determine the sex of a child in doubtful cases” (2001, 53). In an article on the issue of transsexuals and birth certificates, L. O. Schroeder points out, “Legally, a definition of male or female does not exist. The presumption that gender is so well understood as not to need defining does not survive examination” (1973, 239). Gender is shaped by the interplay between a number of distinct and often historically shifting factors—sex chromosomes, gonadal sex, sex hormone pattern, internal nongonadal sex organs, genitalia, secondary sex characteristics, gender of rearing, and gender identity.4 These characteristics are assumed to align themselves into a simple, unitary, uncontested form, defined as male or female. However, even these apparently biological elements are not always in alignment: people with intersexed conditions are born with different constellations of sex characteristics; many transgender individuals make surgical interventions on their bodies or take hormones to alter them. State actors, then, are forced to choose and monitor a particular criterion for defining sex when assigning legal gender identity. Compounding the confusion, in the United States there are state entities with jurisdictional power to define sex. For example, states, territories, and the federal government each issue all sorts of identification documents—from passports to birth certificates to drivers’ licenses to pilots’ licenses to Social Security cards. Even state entities that do not issue identity documents but do segregate on the basis of gender make their own rules for gender classification— prisons, hospitals, schools, drug rehabilitation centers, youth service providers, social services. To add yet one more layer of complexity, judges have added to the chaos by finding that one’s legal gender for one social function may not hold for others (Currah forthcoming).

Birth certificates violently enforce the state’s imposed gender hierarchy


Moore & Currah 2015 [Lisa Jean Moore Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at the State University of New York, Purchase College. She was born in New York State, received a BA from Tufts University, a Masters of Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley and a PhD from the University of California, and Paisley Currah is Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. "Legally Sexed." Feminist Surveillance Studies (2015): 58-76. Print.

Using the surveillance mechanisms of identity documents, the state implies that it must protect its citizens from would-be imposters. As “sex change” was made possible and acknowledged by the general population as well as policymakers, medical professionals, and bureaucrats, the state wanted to create a metric that ensured that the identity, once changed, would not change again. While cultural representations might allow for the flexibility of gender displays beyond traditional ideological binaries, state actors, often in the service of their constituents, have difficulty accommodating subjects whose gender identity does not “match” their legal sex. Even though, in the most recent period, state officials did acknowledge the possibility of identity changing and the necessity of individuals having identity documents that match, they fought to ensure that this change of sex be one-time, enduring, measurable, and “irreversible.” This anxiety about the possible inability of an identity document to maintain a correspondence with an individual throughout their life-span is summed up by a leading bureaucrat on the issue: “But we won’t know who you are.” In the end, the barrier put in place in New York City to ensure permanence—requiring genital surgery before an M or an F will appear on the reissued document—cannot in fact guarantee the permanence of gender identity or the genitals. While it is unlikely, it is possible for an individual to have gender-reassignment surgery more than once. This policy does not prevent that from occurring, nor does it mandate that individuals born in New York City who have undergone genital sex-reassignment surgery change their identity documents to match their new body. It does, however, prevent the vast majority of individuals whose gender identity does not match their legal sex from having their gender recognized by the state. At the time of this writing, the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund has filed a lawsuit challenging the birth-certificate policy as “arbitrary” and “capricious.” Other groups are working to have city legislators pass legislation to mandate criteria for sex reclassification that does not require body modification. Whether it is the fraud iteration of the 1960s or the current policy, state officials are left upholding a standard that is only possible within a legal framework—that the “essential” nature of identity must be grounded in the body itself. Within the legal framework, the only way to change one’s legal sex is to change the body, specifically the genitals. Outside the legal framework, advocates, gender theorists, and transgender people certainly understand the mutability of sex and gender. While these documents may seem benign, they create pain and suffering at local levels (Cover 1986; J. C. Scott 1998). Gendered surveillance accomplished through birth certificates (and all identity documents that rely on this original paper) means that bodies must reinforce the socially and culturally mandated binary sex characteristics.
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