From territorial space to networks: a Foucaldian approach to the implementation of biometry.

Author:Bonditti, Philippe
 
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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.

Biometry has been championed as a technology that can be used in new identification documents to verify whether an individual has a right to enter a national territory or a territory subject to a specific process of securitization. It has provoked questions both in Europe's parliament and the U.S. Congress. For the most part, such questioning has been limited to asking what the best technology is (for example, is it fingerprints or facial recognition by photography?), how long it would take to implement, and how much it would cost. However, other questions can also be asked--questions I want to pursue here. What kind of political imagination and expectation informs this belief in new technologies? What are the broader dynamics driving this general trend? How does this belief impact on societies and what can be learned from the societal dynamics that result? My analysis of the implementation of biometric systems is guided by the work on practices of surveillance and the globalization of control pursued by, among others, Gary T. Marx, (5) John Urry, (6) David Lyon, (7) Thomas Mathiessen, (8) and Michael Dillon. (9)

Claims about the "fight against terrorism," the "globalization of control," and "necessary security measures taken to secure populations against a globalized threat" share an intriguing relation to space and territory, especially in relation to challenges posed by the mobility and flows of people. Expectations about new technologies have become a sensitive issue in relation to demands for greater control of the mobility of peoples and to established principles involving freedom of movement.

Both the scholarly literature and policy initiatives concerned with terrorism tend to assume that territory is a permanent, underlying feature of political life that can be taken for granted, despite warnings about the "territorial trap." (10) Territory is simply assumed, both as a space to be unified in order to control people and as an element of power. (11) This assumption affirms a particular account of the border, the frontier, the line that fixes and defines a specific national space. It determines a supposedly pacified interior in which police forces are sufficient to maintain order and a supposedly unpacified exterior that requires the mobilization of military forces. (12) The frontier distinguishing the internal from the external also defines the role of and action spaces for security agencies: "policing the internal and making war outside." (13)

Foucault once suggested that European societies moved historically from a "territorial pact" to a "security pact." (14) In the first case, the prince ensured the safety of a territorial space against external intrusion through the enforcement of frontiers. In the latter case, safety is not so much a matter of territorial space as of the population itself. The state guarantees the safety of the population through what Foucault calls a biopolitics. Part of my analysis here seeks to evaluate Foucault's triptych of territory-sovereignty/bodiesdiscipline/population-biopolitics that he highlighted in his account of the emergence of biopower by asking what this triptych becomes in times of flows, extreme mobility, and implementation of advanced technological tools that focus on neither the territory nor the body nor the population, but mobility.

From Territorialization to Deterritorialization to "Virtualization" of the Threat

Analysis of U.S. political and bureaucratic discourses on "terrorism" from the beginning of the 1980s suggests an oscillating description of the terrorist threat, which has been successively territorialized and deterritorialized. (15) In the United States, (16) and mainly in analyses developed by the State Department and the Pentagon, the "terrorist threat" has long been associated with territorial/geographical spaces. Whether in relation to the USSR and other specific states or geographical spaces (Europe, South America, then the Middle East) or to the designation of "rogue states" and the "axis of evil," U.S. strategy against "terrorism" has been characterized by a strong tendency to territorialize the "terrorist threat." Since the early 1990s, under the influence of analyses by the CIA and the FBI, "terrorism" has been increasingly assimilated to networked groups of individuals. Thus the "terrorist threat" is no longer only territorialized but also deterritorialized and individualized. It is no longer geographically localized but described in terms of networks. Discourses on a globalized threat have thus appeared, describing large networks of terror, sometimes linked to state-sponsored terrorism.

These two trends of territorialization, on the one hand, and deterritorialization, on the other, have coexisted in U.S. analysis for fifteen years. Here I will not recall the reasons for and origins of these trends, (17) but later I will come back to the effects of such an association of "terrorism" to territorial spaces or to networked groups of people. The war on terrorism in which the United States is now engaged can be understood only if one takes into account this territorialization process. To engage military forces against terrorism, a state has to be designated as a threat, as Afghanistan was designated despite not having appeared in the annual list of statesponsored terrorism. (18) Conversely, an analysis in terms of networks implies a response that will engage intelligence and police forces and a judicial decision, a response that risks putting everybody under suspicion, and surveillance.

In the mid-1990s, a focus was progressively put on the protection of so-called critical infrastructures. The "virtual" element thus appeared in the U.S. analyses on "terrorism" through the notion of the cyberthreat. In this case, the "terrorist threat" was completely deterritorialized, disconnected from territorial space. Cyberattacks are distinguished from physical ones in the conclusion of a report by the interagency group on terrorism commissioned by...

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