In June 2015 I completed a Master of Information degree at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. As part of this degree I wrote a thesis on the history and development of biometric technologies in the United States. This project outlines the historical development of biometric technologies like fingerprinting and facial recognition, it describes how these tools produce knowledge about people, and it how that knowledge is mobilized by industry and the state, as part of a broader effort to account for the proliferation of biometric technologies into everyday life. For this project I also used critical making methods to explore how concepts like privacy, groups and categories are articulated within and through biometric tools and methods.

Read Chapter 1 of The Blinking Eye: Biometrics and the Technologization of Privacy

See the Table of Contents

Read the full thesis

Project Abstract

This project traces the technological and institutional development of the biometrics industry within the United States. In particular, this study explores how biometric tools migrated from local policing and administrative contexts to become centralized tools of state power. Using document analysis, critical making and historical methods, this study takes up biometric systems as sociotechnical systems, and examines connections between biometric technologies and social sorting. Although industry rhetoric describes biometric measurement as a process involving the capture and disclosure of individual identities, this study demonstrates that, in practice, private industry and the state mobilize biometric tools in order to construct group-level differences and manage categories of people. Beginning with biometry’s origins in nineteenth century racial science, and moving through to the post-9/11 security state, this project investigates the social, political and technological conditions that contributed towards large shifts in the scope and scale of American biometrics.

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