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International Political Sociology (2007) 1, 149164

Guilty Bodies, Productive Bodies, Destructive Bodies: Crossing the Biometric Borders
CHARLOTTE EPSTEIN University of Sydney
This article examines the forms of power brought into play by the deployment of biometrics under the lenses of Foucaults notions of discipline and biopower. These developments are then analyzed from the perspective of governmentality, highlighting how the broader spread of biometrics throughout the social fabric owes not merely to the convergence of public and private surveillance, but rather to a deeper logic of power under the governmental state, orchestrated by the security function, which ultimately strengthens the state. It is associated with the rise of a new governmentality discourse, which operates on a binary logic of productive/destructive, and where, in fact, the very distinctions between private and public, guilty, and innocentFclassic categories of sovereigntyFnd decreasing currency. However, biometric borders reveal a complicated game of renegotiations between sovereignty and governmentality, whereby sovereignty is colonized by governmentality on the one hand, but still functions as a counterweight to it on the other. Furthermore, they bring out a particular function of the destructive body for the governmental state: it is both the key gure ruling the whole design of security management, and the blind spot, the inconceivable, for a form of power geared toward producing productive bodies.

(. . .) Political power is like the sun; everyone can see it, nobody can look straight at it, it has taken centuries to discover it, and its not nished yet! (Henri Lefebvre 1987:18).

Biometrics are at the borders: the discussion on biometrics has been fueled by the series of deadlines imposed by the U.S. government upon the 27 countries partaking in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program for their adoption of the biometric passport.1 It also brought out a host of new anxieties associated with the experience of traveling, in the face of forms of control that have become increasingly close, increasingly invasive, even promiscuous (Big Brother is Looking After You 2006; Jeffrey 2006). Biometric passports have changed the way we travel. For travelers
Authors note: I would like to thank the participants of the ISA workshop Governing by Risk in the War on Terror, Mark Salter, Mick Dillon, Vivienne Jabri, as well as two anonymous reviewers for the journal for their helpful comments on this article. 1 The U.S. mandated the inclusion of a digital photograph in the passport by October 2005, and of the e-chip (to store digital data) by October 2006 (U.S. State Department 2006b).
r 2007 International Studies Association. Published by Blackwell Publishing, 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA, and 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK.


Guilty Bodies, Productive Bodies, Destructive Bodies

who are pressing their index ngers on biometric scanners at U.S. airports are coming into contact with power, in a way that is more direct, more physical than ever before. Power is felt, quite literally, right at the ngertips; the experience is of an encounter with power, of a new kind: immediate and sensory, and yet harmlessFat least physically. But encountering power is seldom completely benign; indeed the very real possibility of being stopped in ones tracks may conceivably generate some anxieties about being misrecognized, or not recognized at allFand thus denied entry. Airports are places suffused with anxiety, as Salter (2003) points out, an anxiety that also helps ensure the travelers stand in line. These traveling experiences are a central albeit indirect motivation for this article; its main object is to explore the new technologies of power deployed by the use of biometrics at the borders and the type of state with which they are associated. A key factor in this biometricization of borders is the increasing convergence of public and private sectors.2 The private biometrics technology industry, for one, is ourishing: a U.S.$1.56 billion market in 2005, it is predicted to double to U.S.$3.4 billion in 2007, and to further expand to U.S.$5.26 billion by 2010 (Laferty Bank Managing International 2005; M2 Presswire 2005). This much-touted trajectory of success owes in great part to states increasingly turning to biometrics to secure their borders. But what exactly motivates this convergence? On the one hand, it sits easily with a broader neoliberal emphasis on cutting government spending and, more generally, rolling back the state. From this perspective, biometric borders appear as merely one of the many offshoots of a broader tendency of the state to devolve its defense and security functions upon the private sector (Mandel 2002; Singer 2004; Avant 2005). On the other hand, it seems an adequate response to the heightened demand for security since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the need to nd the most efcient security technologies. Yet the states turn to biometric technologies in fact precedes 9/11: the rst large-scale use of biometrics by U.S. law enforcement agencies occurred at the January 2001 Superbowl in Tampa, FL (Woodward, Orlans, and Higgins 2003:248). Furthermore, the state is actually spending more on security, not less; not least in choosing expensive security technologies such as biometrics. However, the main problem with this line of argument is that the state tends to fade out of sight, eclipsed by a process of privatization that appears to be taking place at its expense. Yet what is lost to such descriptions is what the process itself does for the state: not only does it require the state but the state, in allowing it to happen, is also doing something for itself: it is deploying new forms of power. Hence, the argument in this article runs the other way. It takes a certain kind of state, a certain way of governing, to enable this process in the rst place. In other words, something much bigger is taking place, beyond a succession of punctual privatizations encouraged by certain administrations more amenable to private enterprise; something that lies beyond political preferences, as the convergence of government practices on either side of the political spectrum and the Atlantic tends to indicate. Rather, it has to do with a specific way of governing that takes shape at a particular historical moment. Michel Foucaults concept of governmentality is especially relevant for capturing the kind of state under which biometrics are deployed; and his notions of discipline and biopower lend themselves to exploring these new security practices centered on biometrics. Conversely, biometric borders may shed new light on the logic of governmentality as well as on the concrete workings of biopower. The article thus begins by introducing the key concepts wielded throughout the arguments. This rst part, however, is not intended as a rigid framework binding the argument to
2 Conversely, the difculty of this convergence has stalled the adoption of the biometric passport in France in time to meet the October 2005 deadline: the French government, who had contracted out the new biometric passports to a private company (Oberthur), was taken to court by the Imprimerie Nationale, a public institution detaining exclusive rights to make all ofcial documents of the state.



Foucaults concepts. Rather, these provide a starting point and the paper itself seeks to establish a conversation between these theoretical notions and this new eld of practice to yield further insights into the workings of power. In line with an ascending analysis of power (Foucault 1976a:30), the second part examines the ways in which biometric systems exert power upon individual bodies under the lenses of discipline and biopower. It shows how the logic of governmentality has enabled a broader penetration of biometrics throughout the social fabric, via the security imperative which ultimately serves to strengthen the governmental state. While generic biometric systems provide the material analyzed in the second part, the third part turns to a practical application. It unpacks the rst comprehensive biometric border protection system, the U.S.-VISIT Program. Biometric borders underscore the continued importance of borders, the old markers of sovereignty, for the governmental state. Yet sovereignty also shows its enduring capacity to act as a counterweight to governmentality, as it has effectively thwarted the full deployment of biometrics across the globe. The object of the analysis is thus to open up to inquiry the complicated play of tensions between sovereignty and governmentality that is taking place around the biometric borders, so as to begin to understand how the state is shaping out today. I suggest that this distinction between sovereignty and governmentality may help to make sense of the growing misunderstanding between states that are merely working to protect us and the citizens increasing anxiety, before these increasingly invasive techniques of control (Lodge 2005). It is best accounted for as two discourses talking past each other.

Conceptual Groundings
In 1978, Michel Foucault, a historian of political thought, offered the term governmentality to capture a conceptual framework that took shape very gradually, as of the sixteenth century, as a counterpart to the theories of sovereignty (Foucault 1978). For sovereignty had provided the initial framework for the emergence of the `-vis modern state. It had consolidated the form of the state, both externally, vis-a other states (with the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia), and internally, through the progressive reinforcement of legal apparatuses throughout Western Europe in the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries. Territory and the law were thus constituted as the main attributes of sovereignty. However, in the exercise of state power, a new cluster of functions began to form, in relation to the irruption of what Foucault called the population question. Through the twin historical processes of demographic explosion and industrialization, the population had emerged in the eighteenth century both as an object of study, circumscribed by new forms of knowledge (such as statistics), and as the thing in need of being governedFand thus as the point of convergence of knowledge and power. The population was no longer merely the attribute of the sovereign (his or her people), but a huge productive force, key to developing the wealth of nations. Governing, under these circumstances, meant harnessing the population into the new capitalist machine; it required nding new ways to optimize these productive capacities. Governmentality thus provides a vantage point from which to observe the state other than the state-as-sovereignty, and it highlights the modern state as essentially managerial. It is a broad term under which to regroup the multiple and polymorphous tactics and strategies of population management. It also indicates a new economy of state power, an increasingly rationalized and indeed economical power, steeped in the same logic of productive growth. It spends itself less and less (by contrast with the costly displays of sovereignty), and enables production more and more. Governmentality thus points to an overall tendency toward increasingly efcient forms of population management. Although the term was coined to mirror sovereignty, it is not meant to evoke a similarly xed set of theories, but rather a process, a general orientation of the modern state, which is indissociable from an incremental


Guilty Bodies, Productive Bodies, Destructive Bodies

trajectory of power.3 Governmentalization, rather than governmentality, marks the evolution of the modern state. Whereas governmentality refers to the broad conceptual framework, discipline and biopower capture two concrete modalities of state power that successively emerged within that framework. Both target the population, although they differ as to their points of application. Both are, furthermore, productive powers, powers that enable production. Discipline addresses the individual, in both body and mind. Historically, the emergence of discipline signaled an increasing internalization of power, operated by the rise of institutions such as the school, the factory, and the army; to the extent that discipline increasingly substituted punishment as the key mechanism of population control (Foucault 1975). Discipline is far less costly than punishment, in that it dispenses with the necessity for the sovereign to publicly mark the law, the limits of acceptable behavior, upon guilty bodies. The point of application of biopower, by contrast, is the population as a whole (Foucault 1976b, 1981). Biopower is the form of power concerned with the life (bios), with the wellbeing and prosperity of the population. With this term, Foucault captured a fundamental shift, whereby the main modality of state power was no longer the power over lifeFthe power to killFbut rather the power to make live. It signals a state busying itself increasingly with birth and death rates, living conditions, issues of health, hygiene, reproduction, and indeed population movements. Historically, discipline precedes biopower, but they coexist; for biopower needs discipline, as the most effective and least costly means by which the population is managed from within. Thus, a productive population is the aim of the governmental state; discipline and biopower are the means of achieving it, ensuring docile (discipline) and healthy (biopower) bodies that produce.

The Logic of Governmentality Has Enabled the Biometricization of Society

Governmentality casts the turn to biometrics into a different light altogether. For the spread of biometrics throughout the social fabric appears inscribed within the very logic of governmentality, that is, within the logic of a state geared entirely toward securing the population in order to ensure its continued productivity. In other words, it says something about where we stand in the process of governmentalization. This section unravels the workings of biometrics, in order to understand the new forms of power being deployed upon the population, and what these in turn reveal about the contemporary state.
Biometric Power

Biometric power operates as a form of power/knowledge applied upon masses of live bodiesFalready in its etymology, the measurement of life (biometry), it rings of biopower. Indeed, it is functionally concerned with the life of these bodies in that it needs to ensure these are alive for the system to be optimized, as one biometric manual emphasizes.4 In another one, significantly, the iris is considered one of the most reliable biometrics, one of the least easy to fake, because it requires the body to be aliveFunlike the ngerprint, which can be chopped off a dead body (Bolle et al. 2004:148). The biometric itself is the measurement obtained from a print or photo of the body part (face, nger, hand, iris, or retina),5 which is then used to authenticate (or identify) the individual. This process is becoming
3 For another historical (pre-Foucauldian) take on an incremental trajectory of state power, cf. Bertrand de Jouvenel (1945/1972). 4 Smith (2003:8) thus species: accurate authentication depends in part on whether the system can ensure that biometric authenticators are actually presented by live people. 5 The use of behavioral traits (voice, keystroke, gait, skin reectance) is under development (Bolle et al., 2004:7).



increasingly automated through the development of biometric technologies, so as to become applicable to larger and larger numbers of people. The site of identication has shifted to the body. What is being veried are no longer the documents individuals carry upon themselves, but their bodies. Contrary to what the biometrics literature claims, it is not so much about verifying that you are who you say you are, since more often than not you do not actually say anything; but that you are the right body, the one that yields a match. Control is exerted upon the individual body, at the point of entry into the secured space, whether physical or logical: this is the point at which, to uses a phrase of Foucault, power passes through individuals rather than is applied to them.6 That is, it is only really applied against those who are stopped at the gate; for the majority who are let through, it is seamless; it just passes, as do they. Biometric power is mostly about enabling movement rather than preventing it. Nonetheless, the gate is also the point at which individuals are connected to power via their bodies. Through the body the individual is subjected to power, by being circumscribed (measured) as an object of knowledge. This highly technical form of knowledge-as-measurement is central to biometric systems. It is the basis for exerting control. For the body is controlled by being known.7 Furthermore, the process of knowledge-gathering underlying the constitution of these databases presupposes power relations, insofar as it requires an institutional setting where individuals let their bodies be measured/known to power (Foucault 1975, 1980).
Surveillance? What Surveillance?

Biometric power thus operates as a form of surveillance centered on the body. However, what type of surveillance is actually implicated? Is this a surveillance destined to keep individuals in line, on the model of the panopticon; or is it surveillance to protect? The question is worth examining, as it may reveal the nality of power under governmentality. Both of course constitute forms of control, but they are very different in their application: the rst presumes a one-to-one relationship between the individual and the eye of power. In the other, the individual fades out into a broader group of people, and the aim of control is to secure. In design, the biometric system is ultimately oriented toward the latter, but it also contains traces of the former. Biometric manuals distinguish between positive enrollment and negative enrollment; which divides the world into two types of subjects, trusted and questionable (Bolle et al. 2004:159). Positive enrollment is where an individual voluntarily gives up personal information to varying degrees of detail in order to be granted access to an employment, or even to a credit card. This creates a pool of trusted subjects. Negative enrollment, by contrast, is a process of registration of questionable subjects to form a database N. There, enrollment is not voluntary, occurring essentially when the individual breaks the law (Bolle et al. 2004:159). The databases, which are far more detailed, are constituted by compiling criminal databases, that is, information obtained in the context of surveillance-as-punishment or at least temporary restraint of the individual. However, negative enrollment is a precondition for positive enrollment. In other words, before an individual can be deemed a trusted subject, s/he must rst be screened against available databases of questionable or risky subjects.
6 Foucault draws this distinction in his January 14, 1976, lecture to emphasize the dynamic movement of power, the fact that it does stop atFor indeed stopFone individual, but that it circulates between individuals. Thus, the term applying to is not to be taken absolutely, as meaning that power simply does not apply to individual bodies, but rather in this particular play of opposition with passing through. Otherwise, it would be inconsistent with his other work on discipline (Foucault 1975), in a text whose focus is disciplinary power (Foucault 1976a:29). 7 The retina illustrates how just intimately the body can be known, and how this form of knowledge may spill over into medical knowledge: one of the most controversial biometrics, it can yield information about medical conditions (Bolle et al. 2004:7).


Guilty Bodies, Productive Bodies, Destructive Bodies

Should this yield a match, the individual cannot be positively enrolled (without further checks). Enrolling in biometric language is the process of selecting trusted individuals from the wider population in order to constitute the systems nite yet expandable database M (Bolle et al. 2004:157). Yet when picking out individuals from the wider population to form database M, it relies on a fully operational disciplinary power. In other words, it presumes that these are well-disciplined individuals, individuals who have so completely internalized social norms that punishment can be dispensed with. In fact, given that undisciplined individuals have been previously weeded out through negative enrollment, it rests on the assumption that the majority of individuals, those who are not yet in database M nor in database N, are fully disciplined. If they are not in database N, they are eligible: this logic inherently presumes a fully disciplined society. For only a disciplinary society will truly guarantee that the individuals selected by the system will naturally toe the institutional line and voluntarily submit their private details, including images of their body parts, because it has been constituted as part of the normal procedure to obtain this or that employment. Of course, the degree to which these individuals actually have a choice is itself questionable. Nonetheless, from the point of view of discipline, obtaining that individuals act voluntarily in submitting their intimate details about their bodies is a complete success. A biometric system controls the movement of disciplined bodies in and out of a space, to protect both the space and the bodies within it. Hence, while in its design the system evokes both forms of surveillance, it ultimately subsumes the punishing aspect of surveillance under the security objective, all the while relying centrally on the successful operation of discipline. In this it exemplies the movement from discipline to biopower, which eventually uses [discipline] by sorting of inltrating it, embedding itself in existing disciplinary techniques (Foucault 1976a:242). Salter (2003:126), for his part, marvels at the degree to which discipline is implicated in the very architecture of passport-control areas in airports: these are generally open spaces, where no physical barrier actually prevents anyone from running past the passport-control booths and entering unchecked into the country, and yet where such gesture is inconceivable (or conceivable only as mad) and where most people tend to stand docilely behind the yellow line. This is surveillance as securing, enabled by discipline. However, biometric power has developed essentially as a private surveillance, deployed around private spaces and spurred by private interests. Thus, far from an imposition from above, this form of surveillance has progressively cropped up in one social setting after another (ofces, sports stadiums, casinos; Woodward, Orlans, and Higgins 2003:329352), slowly impregnating the society from the bottom-up, as a need generated from within. In the industrys own analysis: we saw a steadily, but slowly increasing trickle of adoption in specific application areas (Ashbourn 2004:143). Only subsequently did states turn to it for their borders. Even there, the use of biometrics in airports rst developed as a series of private/public partnerships deployed sporadically and to address local concerns about the cost to commerce of heightened security measures, with various voluntary frequent traveler schemes, such as the U.S. Transport and Security Authoritys Registered Traveller Program or the Privium scheme at Amsterdams Schiphol Airport (Woodward, Orlans, and Higgins 2003:295). Nor was it triggered by the airplane attacks of September 11, since such programs have been in place in U.S. airports since 1993 (e.g., the INSPASS program; Woodward, Orlans, and Higgins 2003). How, then, can we account for the states needing to resort to a private power? Is this an indication of a relative disempowerment of the state and an increasingly powerful private sector, such that the state is belatedly scurrying after forms of control long in place in the latter?

Security, the Dening Feature of Contemporary Governmentality


Biometrics is about securing; and this promise of an infallible, high-tech security is where public and private demands connect. No doubt the demand for security has sharply increased in a post-9/11 world. Yet the demand itself is nothing new; only the renewed vigor with which it has been addressed by states since 9/11, not least in adding biometrics to its range of technologies of state power, has drawn into sharp relief the function of security under governmentality. In fact, guaranteeing security has always been central to the governmental state: the security compact, as Foucault (1977b:385) had named it already in 1977, goes to the very heart of the relation between the government and the population. This is not, however, security-as-sovereignty, not the territorial compact, where the sovereign promises secure boundaries or peace within those boundaries. The boundaries are long settled, and no civil strife looms in most of the states adopting biometrics today. The threat is different, or rather the entire security logic is different. With security-assovereignty, what the state secured was the state itself: this was the self-referential circularity characteristic of sovereignty (Foucault 1978:644646). Maintaining the boundaries, upholding law and order, was what mattered for the sovereign state. It readily exerted its right to kill (its own subjects) to protect these two markers of sovereignty. For the governmental state, by contrast, security is about keeping these subjects alive: live bodies, so to speak, are the objects of security. In the Hobbesian state, security was only a consequence of abiding to the law. You were safe because of the law, but also so long as you did not cross it. Here, security is a condition of possibility, or rather a condition of heightened productivity: the individual body is protected so that s/he can produce. There, power was at a bay. Here, biometric power works up-close, right against the body, to help the individual feel safe, and thus produce better. There, furthermore, everyone was potentially destructive; hence the law was so necessary to contain these wolfish tendencies. The governmental state, by contrast, is solicitous. What Foucault pointed out in 1977 still holds true, the exceptional measures adopted in the name of security are seldom emphasized as a sovereign prerogative, a sign of arbitrariness, that is, as a demonstration of sovereign power. To the contrary, they are presented, not only as necessaryFvital, evenFbut as an expression of solicitude. The solicitous state will secure the population by any means necessary. These may include the law, but are not limited to it. There, the law was instrumental to the sovereigns promise. Here, Foucault points out to a security that no longer uses the law but operates above it (Foucault 1977a) and below it as well, as biometric power illustrates. That the security function appears to be evolving increasingly outside both territory and the law, as illustrated by war prisons at Guantanamo bay, further conrms that this is security-as-governmentality (Butler 2004). Once again, this reaches well beyond the promise of a particular government or a political party; it lies at the heart of the way the governmental state is shaping out. For security is the one priority upon which all governments agree, at least those investing heavily into security technologies such as biometrics.8 One of the effects of the so-called war on terror has been to strip the definition of security to its bare essentials, such that all governments can concord, regardless of their political inclination: this is no longer about social security (as indeed it still was in Foucaults 1977a, 1977b text), it has become quite adamantly about physical security, literally, about life and death. Securing the mass of productive bodies is thus the nality of governmentality today. But securing it against what? Against an untraditional threat, in the words of NATO Supreme Allied Commander for Europe General James Jones (U.S.
8 In fact, the failure to do so brought about the defeat of a right-wing government in Spain, illustrating that this lies beyond party political distinctions, as indeed does the Democrats aggressive attempt to take on the theme of homeland security in the United States.


Guilty Bodies, Productive Bodies, Destructive Bodies

Congress 2006); a threat that is no longer an attack upon the borders, but rather a threat of disruption of the productive fabric, whether targeting productive bodies and/or the productive infrastructure.9 This threat has become the third term in the relationship between the government and its population. By the same token, a new correlation is established between the degree to which the threat is wielded and that to which it is responded to such that more insecurity leads to more responseFand thus to more governmental state. In a context where governing has come to mean containing the risk of a terrorist attack, biometric systems provide the perfect technology for such risk management not least because it denes the risk, or rather it embodies it, in the risky body. Hence the biometricization of society, of which the borders are but one instance, has been enabled by governmentalitys own incremental logic. Not privatization, but governmentalization. By the same token, the risky body has become the central gure determining the entire design of security management, for this is a management ruled by the exception.10 It is not meant to stop the ow of normal travelers, the productive bodiesFthrough which power merely passes, as we have seen; it aims to spot the risky traveler. This explains the development of systems of surveillance built entirely around a statistical improbability, the possibility of an attack. In fact, this is how protection turns into surveillance: the system is looking for the risky body. Ironically enough, in a system that tends toward total visibility, the normal traveler has become invisible, unremarkable. The exception is the visible, or at least it is what the system seeks to render visible, by, literally, putting a face (or a ngerprint) to a name.
Sovereignty and Governmentality: Two Discourses Talking Past One Another

With governmentality, we have thus shifted to a different logic altogether. What are the implications, then, for those categories rooted in the framework of sovereignty, such as the distinctions between rst, public and private, and second, between innocent and guilty? First, the distinction private versus public appears rather moot from the perspective of maximizing security and productivity in exceptional circumstances, which is the discourse of the war on terror. In such logicFthe logic of a threat to life itselfFdefending privacy no longer seems the priority: this is the logic by which the industrys thinkers can simply assume that when it comes to security, most everybody seems to be willing to give up some privacy (Bolle et al. 2004:162). Hence the question of whether this is a public or private power is also somewhat irrelevant. What is important is that everyone feels secure. The governmentality framework sheds new light on the erosion of the distinction between public and private: there it is merely falling out of currency. As for the distinction between guilty and innocent, biometrics establishes a logic of checking (authentication), not one of accusing. This is not an issue of being innocent until proven guilty: once again, we are drawn beyond the framework of the law/sovereignty. We have switched discourses altogether. Contrary to what the traveler her/ himself may experienceFnot least perhaps because s/he is still operating within these categories of rights and lawsFit is not that one is presumed guilty until authenticated by the system. Rather, the category guilty simply does not obtain. This is instead a binary logic of productive/destructive, where the
9 It is significant that during the Senate Committee hearing both he and Senator Levin emphasized the fundamental transformation of NATO, an alliance founded entirely to address a sovereignty-type threat, from a defense to a security function (including helping in cases of pandemics, the biopolitical issue par excellence). 10 The risky body appears as an embodiment of the exceptional politics that Georgio Agamben (2005:2) has identied as the dominant paradigm of government in contemporary politics. The state of exception under which democratic governments are increasingly operating in the context of the war on terrorism is marked by an indefinite suspension of the normal rule of law and associated rights. Just as the state of exception becomes an organizing feature of government today, this exceptional gure (the risky body) becomes the organizing principle of the new security systems.



scrutinized body is ranked as either one (and let through) or the other (and stopped). It is also just a body; it is no longer so clearly a holder of rights: the gure of the body as the subject of rights has faded out of sight, as we saw in the previous section. In fact, only once (and if) the body has been deemed productive at the borders does it become once again a subject of rights. As Salter (2003:127) has shown, the airports are spaces of rightlessness, where the traveler is granted rights only after he has been admitted into the territory. In a different vein, Judith Butler (2004) analyses how whole new, extra-legal categories have been carved out for those bodies effectively treated as destructive, and from whom rights are withheld, such as enemy combatants. Consequently, these two discourses, that of lawyer or the civil rights advocate and that of the biometric engineer, are simply talking past each other. The biometric manuals themselves provide a good gauge of the rift between the two discourses. For example, here is how one manual (Bolle et al. 2004:163164) explains how biometric engineers envisage the population: the population, better known as the zoo, is subdivided into ve groups, sheep, goats, wolves, lambs, and chameleons. Sheep, which comprise the majority, are the well-behaved subjects. Goats are particularly difcult to identify (. . .) perhaps due to physical damage to body parts. Wolves are the subjects that attack other subjects in the population by imitating, impersonating or forging a biometric. Lambs are easy to imitate and thus the subjects that are attacked by other subjects. As for chameleons, they are the subjects that both attack and are being attacked because they are both easy to imitate and good at imitating. As Ben Muller (2004) has already underlined a propos these manuals, these categories are described with neither the slightest touch of irony nor, for that matter, malignant intent, in a language that would nonetheless leave the civil rights advocate musing. What this really amounts to is an incommensurability of discourses: these two sorts of people are simply located in two different discursive terrains.

Biometrics at the Borders

Biometrics were ofcially proclaimed a new technology of state power by the American president in the aftermath of September 11, in the context of signing the 2002 Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act. Thus, if securing is in fact a function of governmentality, how come the designated location for carrying it out were the borders, which actually refer back to sovereignty? To address this question, I turn to the rst comprehensive biometricized system of border protection developed at the U.S. borders. Indeed, the ultimate purpose of rst examining the workings of biometric systems was to understand the new biometric border systems.
The U.S.-VISIT Program

By 2006, the United States had imposed the biometric passport upon its closest allies, the countries of the Visa Waiver countries. Yet for all the clamor around it, the biometric passport is only a minor piece in a vast border protection system centered on biometrics. Furthermore, what was being imposed was merely an international standard for aviation travel agreed upon by the 188 states of International Civil Aviation Organisation in 2003 (ICAO 2006). While the United States may have been instrumental in accelerating the move toward a biometric passport at the international level, the choice as to which biometric to set as the international standard emerged as a long-drawn-out compromise, which exposed diverging sensibilities and levels of acceptance regarding biometrics from one country to the other (U.S. Congress 2005). Eventually the face was chosen, simply because, in the words of the ICAO (2006), the face has long been used by border control


Guilty Bodies, Productive Bodies, Destructive Bodies

authorities to conrm identity.11 Hence, technically a passport qualies as biometric if it stores (in an a e-chip) a digitized replica of the photo, which can then be retrieved by the border guard and matched to the printed photo to verify whether the document has been tampered with. At rst glance, then, the biometric passport seems no different from the passport as we have always known it to be (Salter 2003). Only the possibilities contained in the e-chip, which, as the deadline approached, some Visa Waiver countries chose to exploit individually, make it somewhat more thrilling: countries such as Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and Australia decided to include ngerprints, in addition to the digitized photograph. For the U.S. border guards, however, the use of the biometric passport is limited to ensuring the passports are tamperproof.12 Thus, biometric passports are merely a complementary measure; instead, the centrepiece in the new architecture of biometric borders the U.S.-VISIT Program (United States Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology). Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. Congress mandated a complete overhaul of the American border control system, to be fully implemented by the end of 2005 at the latest. The attacked state turned to buttress its borders, except, this time, biometric entry capabilities would make all the difference (U.S. State Department 2006a). Biometric borders were thus Congresss dream of a perfect shield for the homeland. These proved rather thorny to implement in reality; and by 2005, the borders were far less biometricized than in Congresss dream.13 The rst step in the elaboration of a comprehensive system of border protection centered on biometrics was the National Security Entry-Exit Registration program (NSEER), established on September 11, 2002 (U.S. State Department 2003a). NSEER developed the rst biometric database of risky aliens, by combining a new, biometrics-based registration process for travelers to the U.S. broadly deemed potentially risky, with preexisting databases that already used biometrics. The registration process operated in two ways, by designating certain nationalities (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Syria) for automatic registration, and by singling out certain individuals arriving from certain countries, or who meet a combination of intelligence-based criteria, and are identied as presenting an elevated national security concern.14 At registration the individuals biometrics (ngerprint and faceprint) were collected, together with detailed biographic information. NSEER was terminated in December 2003, and progressively replaced by U.S.VISIT, which was piloted in 2004, and generalized throughout 2005 (U.S. State Department 2005). Because NSEER still relied on broad categories, something more ne-grained was needed, capable of directly identifying the actually risky
11 Hence the face is the recommended biometric for the ICAO; the iris and ngerprints are optional (ICAO 2006). 12 This is of some practical importance from the U.S. perspective, in that the passports of travelers from Visa Waiver Countries sojourning under 3 months are the only passports that do not come into contact with U.S. authorities before the border. All other passports can be physically checked by the local U.S. embassy when its owner applies for a visa. Mark Salter (2003:130131) also emphasizes this U.S. sensitivity to fraudulent documents as a basis for risk proling. 13 This disappointment is tangible throughout the June 22nd House Committee Hearing, where the Senators urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ofcials for more rather than less biometrics. Several senators deplored that the ICAO chose the face only. Senator Lungren, for one, puzzled at the cultural and political difculties that came in the way of other countries acceptance of ngerprints: yet 9/11 changed the world! (U.S. Congress 2005). 14 Thus, the registry was rapidly de facto expanded to include the following nationalities: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen (U.S. State Department 2003a). The legal basis for this national registry is the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act, which requires any alien over 14 years old who remains in the United States for more than 30 days be registered. Thus, technically, the new system merely requires cancelling the exemptions that were in place in practice, for those ve suspicious nationalities enumerated above (U.S. State Department 2002).



individual amid the fray of travelers, rather than operate in terms of broad groups of potentially risky travelers who were ranked according to their nationality or race. Indeed, an important weakness of the system was that it was left open to considerable criticism as to how these generic markers of untrustworthiness were determined: why certain nationalities were included and not others, such as Cuba or North Korea.15 Or indeed Saudi Arabia, given that the stated rationale was, in the words of one ofcial: these are places where al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations have been active (U.S. State Department 2003a). The supplemental list of individuals was one step closer to being able to hone in directly on the risky body; however, it too relied on categories that were uneasily dened and exposed to injunctions of racial or religious proling. In short, the system was discriminatory, as well as inefcient, since it could be defeated by individuals defying coarse categorizations. One such individual was Richard Reid the shoe bomber, who had passed border controls undetected on his (unstolen) British passport: Mark Salter (2003:129) describes the subsequent coining of the awkward new category of British Muslims of this militant stripe. In fact, NSEERs main function lay elsewhere: in the constitution of the database N of risky bodies. From this perspective, it was more than an imperfect scheme hastily thrown together while a better one was under way; it was the preliminary phase in the implementation of a comprehensive biometric system. For the 16 months where it was operational allowed for the orchestration of all the discrete biometric databases into one immense dataset accessible to a vast array of U.S. government agencies for a variety of purposes, including law enforcement within the U.S. territory (a stated objective of NSEER; U.S. State Department 2002). Indeed, the new database of registered travelers was compiled with existing criminal records, both national (FBI) and international (Interpol), as well as a new database, created by the U.S. military, who collected unnamed ngerprints in identied sites of danger abroad, such as al Qaeda training camps, which provided a real mine of ngerprints, according to the one ofcial from the Justice Department (Korbach 2003). Under U.S.-VISIT, everybody is ngerprinted and photographed indiscriminately.16 First, visitors from nonvisa waiver countries, as well as those visitors from visawaiver countries who intend to stay over 3 months, are ngerprinted and photographed at the American Embassy where they apply for the visa (under the BioVisa program) (Williams 2006). Second, short-term visitors from visa-waiver countriesFdespite the biometric passportFhave their ngerprints and faces photographed and scanned at the port of entry. Hence paradoxically enough, the extension to all non-U.S. visitors did away with nationality-based or ethnically based discrimination. I am not claiming that such discrimination does not actually occur on the ground, but rather that it was written out of the systems design. In fact, what U.S.-VISIT did, in yet another instance of shifting from one logic to another, was to substitute discrimination with enrollment, for NSEER had corresponded to the phase of negative enrollment; a prerequisite to the making of database M, as we saw from the previous section. Thus, U.S.-VISIT represents the positive enrollment of all travelers to the United States. Every visitor is now automatically screened against the database N of risky bodies: should this yield a match, the visitor is denied entry.17 Otherwise, the visitor is positively enrolled into database M of trusted travelers. Together, these various schemes have progressively

15 The point was made by Khaled Abdel Kareem, a journalist form the Middle East News Agency at a Foreign Policy Center briefing (U.S. State Department 2003b). 16 With two exemptions: Canadian citizens; and Mexican citizens who already have a laser visa (Border Crossing Card)Fand thus whose ngerprints have been pre-recorded through a different system (U.S. State Department 2004). 17 By January 2006, the number of individuals screened out (and denied entry) was 14,000 at the embassies and 907 at the port of entry, according to Jim Williams (2006), director of U.S.-VISIT.


Guilty Bodies, Productive Bodies, Destructive Bodies

generated immense databases, inching ever closer to the industry analysts dream of a perfect database W, where W stands for world population (Bolle et al. 2004:157). Indeed, by January 2006 U.S.-VISIT had ngerprinted over 44 million individuals, which, in the U.S. State Departments own triumphant assessment, makes the program the largest-scale application of biometrics in the world (U.S. State Department 2006a). From a biometric engineers perspective, database W is the perfect database, the one that enables the system to perform at its best and thwart all attacks, because of its scope: if everybody in the world is biometrically registered, all potential attackers will be successfully weeded out.18
The Blind Spot of Power

These vast biometric databases serve to sift out risky bodies from the ow of travelers at the gates of the homeland. In effect, they are differentiating between two kinds of risky individuals: guilty bodies rst, known transgressors of the law. Indeed, one of the celebrated advantages of U.S.-VISIT is its ability to stop murderers and paedophiles from entering the United States (U.S. State Department 2006a). This tried and tested category of sovereignty is thus also mobilized by the new system. The second category seems more difcult to pin down: immigration violators is how these bodies are designated as in the same press release celebrating the merits of U.S.-VISIT. But given that immigration violators are as old as the United States itself, and that they have tended to be extremely productive, indeed cheap and economically indispensable bodies (Andreas 2000), it is unlikely that such a hugely expensive border protection system was suddenly set up against them today merely because the technology has become available. In fact, the bodies that are sought out are the destructive bodies, not merely the unproductive ones but also those bearing intentions to rip apart the productive fabric of the homeland as well as themselves. That these are presumed to be more likely immigration violators is in itself an interesting presumption, given that many September 11 attackers were not. Of course, destructive bodies is not how they are ofcially referred to: immigrant violators is the fall-back, familiar category established in lieu of a new and still as yet not completely circumscribed type, despite the monster databases. This un-denability is significant; it is more than a linguistic or epistemological shortcoming: it points to a fundamental impossibility for a logic geared toward productivity to actually conceive these destructive bodies, even while it is effectively structured by them. In the previous section we saw a surveillance system geared toward rendering visible the risky body: in fact, they point to a blind spot on the radar of power. Invisible and inconceivable, these destructive bodies are the ultimate affront to governmentality; for they posit the limits of the conceivable. Foucault himself (1976b:138139) had already remarked, a propos suicide and the obsession with studying it in the nineteenth century, how the body that kills itself is a fundamental deance to a form of power that enables life. In another text on Security and the State (1977b), he points to the genuine anger of governments in the face of terrorism. For terrorism makes a lie of their promise of a secure life, the bond to their population. Yet these two strands, a body that kills itself but not others, and a terrorist that kills others but not (necessarily) itself, remained unconnected in Foucaults thought. Today, the new development that needs to be accounted for, beyond Foucault, is the significance of this gure of the destructive body to the deployment of new forms of terrorism. And this begins with nding a name: hence the term destructive body is proposed here, rather than risky body or even suicide bomber, because the bomb is no longer its dening feature, as the 9/11 plane attacks have shown. The destructive body is a double deance to
By the same token, both imperfection and danger are located outside the system: failure can only arise from not enough biometrics, rather than too much.



biopower, the power fostering the life of the species-man (Foucault 1976a, 1976b:242). First, the individual is reclaiming her/his body away from power, in a singular reappropriation, and indeed reversal, of the sovereigns right of death. Second, killing other bodies generalizes the act to the level of humanity at large, and destroys (a least a part of) the species productive and reproductive capacities.

Sovereignty or Governmentality?

The 9/11 terrorist actions deed the power of the state, in its sovereignty, by locating the attack not only on its territory (and not at the borders), but also in its governmentality, by targeting a perfect emblem of productivityFthe World Trade Center. It is significant that the only way the state knew to react was afforded by the old schemes of sovereignty: toughen the borders.19 Yet, the borders became the site of development of these new technologies of population control. Are they the same old borders, then? Yes, in that they have not altered the lines of the map. And yet the new borders are not just stronger physical barriersFno concrete walls built up here. They are exible and high-tech, infused with biopower. They are no longer the classic portals of sovereignty, where power was exerted by granting or withholding access at the gate, but did not extend far beyond the gate on either side. Rather, the borders have become nodes, or gateways, along the circuits of a more uid and ubiquitous power. They have been turned into strategic spaces for the collection of ngerprints. Governmentality has invested the borders. The old schemes of sovereignty have been reactivated by being placed within the eld of governmentality.20 Indeed the resurgence of guilty bodies, a category pertaining to the sovereignty framework, in the new biometric border management system does exactly that. At the same time, however, the borders are strengthened and sovereignty is reinvigorated, albeit reworked. In Butlers (2004:93) words, governmentality becomes the new site for the elaboration of sovereignty. Yet what reemerges in the end is a bolder sovereign stateFa state consolidated not merely in its governmentality, but in its very sovereignty. Sovereignty, that anachronism that refuses to die, as Judith Butler (2004:54) ironizes, shows indeed little sign of waning. No need to look for a neat break between sovereignty and governmentality, Foucault himself insisted on their coexistence. This, however, prompts a similar question to the one raised by the new borders: Is this a new, fundamentally different sovereignty? Butler for her part captures one reconstellation of sovereignty operated by the war prisons, which have brought sovereignty a new lease of life. There sovereignty is revitalized, yet deeply deformed: we are in a new era of petty sovereigns, to use her terms. Yet the monstrous sovereignty she exposes is a sovereignty fully colonized by governmentality, and these petty sovereignties may distract from that other nexus, sovereignty/law/rights, and thus from sovereigntys capacity to actually function as resistance to governmentality. In other words, maybe sovereignty persists today, not just because it is easily disgured, but because it still continues to operate as the pole of resistance to governmentality. Indeed historically the evolution toward governmentality was accompanied by the appropriation of sovereignty by the people (Foucault 1976a:3740). At that particular point, sovereignty became the critical instrument wielded against the excesses of (a monarchic) power. No doubt, this democratization of sovereignty was a smokescreen for the rise of these new forms of disciplinary and regulatory power from within these same people; and Foucault
19 All the more interesting as, technically, the attack did not happen at the borders: both 9/11 ights were domestic ights. 20 This is why I disagree with Mark Salter (2003:131) when he sees NSEER as an attempt to supplement the old passport system: rather, as NSEER, U.S.-VISIT, and the biometric passport tend to indicate, it is an effort to invest it otherwise.


Guilty Bodies, Productive Bodies, Destructive Bodies

(1976a:40) calls for moving away from both disciplinary powers and the old right of sovereignty. Nonetheless, in the meantime, that old right is the only one we have, as Foucault himself recognizes (1976a:39). Moreover, this other piece of the real, namely biometric borders, reveals some very real points of tension between sovereignty and governmentality, which seem to indicate that sovereignty is perhaps not so easily recongured. Thus, perhaps sovereignty may still be more than an empty shell entirely hollowed out, but still somehow upheld, by governmentality.21 Before nailing too hastily the lid on sovereigntys cofn, maybe we should see that anachronism instead as referring back to the form once taken by a democratized sovereignty, where it operated as a refuge from power. Not only is the gure of the individual as subject of rights, entitled to bodily integrity, the only recourse against encroachments upon civil rights, but more concretely, and at the systemic level, sovereignty is what has effectively prevented the deployment of biometrics to its full capacityFthe constitution of the perfect database W of all the ngerprints, toward which governmentality, with its expansive trajectory, tends, for aside from the issue of tamperproof documents, the main reason why the United States has subjected visa-waiver country travelers to ngerprinting and digital photographing under U.S.-VISIT is that, even with biometric passports, the United States depends upon other states goodwill to access the biometrics on the chip. Even if another state includes ngerprints on the chip, the latter would need to be congured so as to allow U.S. machines to read them.22 In other words, behind the question of authorization, the United States is coming up against other states sovereignty. Having it own biometric systems circumvents these issues. Conversely it is interesting that, while collecting ngerprints from aliens, the United States own new biometric passports do not contain them (U.S. Congress 2005)Fthus removing the risk that they may be read by other states. At play here is a competition between jurisdictionsFwho has access to whose citizens biometricsFand thus between sovereignties. But this is also a sign of sovereigntys enduring resistance to governmentality: it is interesting that, on the related question of what passenger information should be made compulsorily available by the airlines to the U.S. administration, the staunchest opposition has stemmed from the European parliament, the institution charged with guarding the sovereignty of the European people.23 Thus, sovereignty has so far effectively stalled the free-ow of ngerprints from one database to another across the globe.

This article began by exploring the concrete modalities of power deployed by biometrics and the specific ways in which they implicate live bodies, by examining them, rst under the lenses of discipline and biopower, then from the angle of surveillance. The article progressed from biometric systems to biometric border systems, the locus where biometric power is ofcially made into state power. This progression itself mirrors a development inscribed in the broader logic of governmentality and its incremental trajectory of power. The distinction between
21 For why, then, would governmentality continue to uphold sovereignty at all? The persistence of sovereignty suggests a more complicated relationship that needs to be further explored. 22 This transpired as a real concern at the U.S. Congress (2005) Committee Hearing on Border Security/Biometric Passports with regards to the new European passports: when asked whether the U.S. border system could not read the actual chip, or would not be allowed information to the EU databases, the DHS ofcial replied: Well, both actually. 23 This in turn reveals tensions between the Commission and Parliament, as the former has sought to accommodate the demands of the United States. The Commissions position, however, was overturned by the European Court of Justice on May 30, 2006; and a new agreement between the EU and the United States on that question is currently under negotiation.



sovereignty and governmentality helped to account for the growing misunderstanding between the solicitous state and the anxious, traveling citizen: it reveals two incompatible discourses. What the travelers scrutinized right down to their ngertips may be experiencing as a violation of their physical integrity is, for the solicitous state, nothing of the kind: biometric borders are there to protect you. They do not imply that you are guilty, they are not accusing you at rst sight, they are merely checking you. They are identifying you, all the better to secure you. Biometric borders thus highlight a new governmental logic that is evolving away from the logic of sovereignty. The question then becomes how (or if) it can accommodate the central pillars of our modern political lives that are ultimately pinned onto sovereignty, namely, the distinctions between guilty and innocent, public and private. For historically, the trajectory of the governmental state has indicated a tendency for sovereignty to become subsumed under governmentality. In other words, the initial concern there was that these were not just two discourses talking past one another, but still somehow coexisting on a level playing eld. Rather, the new discourses of protection are progressively colonizing, and indeed hollowing out, the discourse and practices of civil rights and individual liberties. However, seen from the borders, and indeed from international relations, sovereignty appears not so easily dismissible or recongured by governmentality. In other words, the tension between sovereignty and governmentality is still playing out at the borders. The new governmentality discourse revolves around something it cannot name: the gure of the destructive body. On the one hand, the control of access is entirely ruled by this exceptional gureFthe ow of normal travelers goes unnoticed. And yet at the same time, it marks the blind spot on the radar of power, a fundamental inconceivable for a power geared toward producing productive bodies; hence the endless efforts to mark it with a face or ngerprints. Ultimately the destructive body embodies the third term articulating a relationship between the governmental state and its population increasingly grounded in security. The focus of this article, however, was mostly on the one-way relationship from the state to the population. The key dimension of subjectivity was sacriced to space constraints. Further reections are thus needed on how the subject in turn can relate back to the state: not only what subjectivities are being generated by these new security practices but also what new forms of resistance are being developed by the subjects, and, more generally, how these new security discourses and practices are affecting political life in contemporary democracies.

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