Shoshana Amielle Magnet – When Biometrics Fail: Gender, Race, And The Technology Of Identity

Shoshana Amielle Magnet

Duke University, ISBN: 9780822351351, 224 pages, 2011, English
Despite a decade of proliferation in pervasive control systems, the analysis of the effectiveness of these systems and the criticism of the lack of counter-control over their extensive application seems to be quite weak. The basic functionality of these technologies has improved over the years and they have started to enter our daily lives – an example being face recognition software, now a standard feature on cameras and image processing software. If there’s any undercover strategy it would be connected to the project of familiarizing and making surveillance technologies more socially acceptable through entertaining applications (in connection with this there is an excellent discussion of the National Geographic’s “Afghan Girl” post-identification). The author focuses on one specific part of this technology: biometrics (or biometric identification technologies), which is becoming more popular in ID cards and unlocking devices (computers, cars, entrance doors, etc.). Her key assumption is that people’s bodies can’t be effectively digitized as with “documents” because they change significantly over time. This assumption is supported scientifically with analysis of technical biometrics failures (how they work better for white people, for example, or miserable failures to distinguish men from women), strengthening racial and gender disparities and negating the assumption of the neutrality of software in the various processes (technical and strategic).