Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

From Territorial Space to Networks: A Foucaldian Approach to the Implementation of Biometry

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

From Territorial Space to Networks: A Foucaldian Approach to the Implementation of Biometry

Article excerpt

    La grande hantise qui a obsede le XIX siecle a ete, on le sait,
    l'histoire.... L'epoque actuelle serait peut-etre plutot l'epoque de
    l'espace. Nous sommes a l'epoque du simultane, nous sommes a
    l'epoque de la juxtaposition, a l'epoque du proche et du lointain,
    du cote a cote, du disperse. Nous sommes a un moment ou le monde
    s'eprouve, je crois, moins comme une grande vie qui se developperait
    a travers le temps que comme un reseau qui relie des points et qui
    entrecroise son echeveau.
    --Michel Foucault, 1967

My aim in this article is to explore the political imaginary currently at play in repeated calls for highly technological tools to fight "terrorism." Below I suggest that despite the way these calls keep warning us of the novelty of new dangers, they are enabled by much the same discursive logic examined by Michel Foucault in his account of the differentiated treatment of plague victims and lepers at the turn of the eighteenth century. I am especially concerned with the way such calls express a long-established fascination for and belief in technology.

Drawing on the writings of Lucien Sfez on the imaginary informing the resort to technology and a coming technopolis, (1) I am concerned with resisting the stereotypical opposition between opponents and proponents of technology and suggest that contemporary demands for new technology in the fight against "terrorism" reveal not only an inversion of the relation between politics and technology, as Sfez argues, but an undermining of politics through technology. Technology has not only become the "servantmistress of politics," but discourses about the necessity of technology now hinder the political treatment of, for example, political violence or flows of migration.

The excessive resorting to technology effectively hides the political character of problems that technology is intended to solve. This is partly because of a tendency "to substitute the fiction of technology for the seriousness of its supposed objectivity, as Sfez suggests." (2) However, my focus here is more on the relation that security agencies and politicians now have with technology. Drawing on the work of Paul Virilio on speed and politics, I conclude by highlighting the effects of the changing relationship between politicians, security agencies, and technologies on the historical transformation of the state and its borders.

Since September 2001, the discourses of politicians have increasingly focused on new technologies, as they are so often called. The trend was already well established. In Europe, there were already important debates about cybercriminality in an electronically connected society. In the United States, debates focused on the so-called revolution in military affairs and the protection of critical infrastructures. These concerns have since intensified. We have seen the publication of the U.S. National Security Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, (3) the implementation of the CAPS II system, and the development of "smart borders."

Europeans have become especially concerned with the "necessary technologization" of border controls. Many high-ranking officials and politicians seem to believe that fighting "terrorism" automatically implies an increased resort to new technologies. Throughout the French interior ministry, the UK Home Office, the European Commission, the European Council, and many U.S. institutions (e.g., the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security), we have seen many initiatives, research programs, and debates concerning the gathering and sharing of data about people.

The initiative of the Defense Advanced Researched Program Agency (DARPA) aimed at "Total Information Awareness," while perhaps extreme, is nonetheless telling in this respect. (4) One of these technologies, involving the use of biometrics in identification documents and especially passports, has attained special prominence in such contexts and is the substantive focus of my analysis here. …

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