When reading the New York Times’ New York City Police Photograph Irises of Suspects a couple of days ago I was reminded of Sebastian Meyer‘s Guardian video dispatch from Afghanistan.


In the accompanying article, Jon Boone explains that in Afghanistan,

The US army now has [biometrics] information on 800,000 people, while another database developed by the country’s interior ministry has records on 250,000 people.

It is the sort of operation that would horrify civil liberties campaigners in the west, but there has been little public debate in Afghanistan. […] US soldiers have been collecting huge amounts of biometric data, with little oversight from the Afghan government.

It allows us to understand population shifts and movements, who wasn’t there before and who might be a potential threat just because they are new to that area,” said Craig Osborne, the colonel in charge of Task Force Biometrics.

The Afghanistan government has plans to introduce a biometric ID card by 2013; an attempt to thwart insurgency but it is also thought ID cards will reduce Afghanistan’s rampant voter fraud.


Back in New York, the NYPD is keeping track of prisoners and suspects for when they are transported or appear in court:

Authorities are using a hand-held scanning device that can check a prisoner’s identity in seconds when the suspect is presented in court, said Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman.

Officials began photographing the irises of suspects arrested for any reason on Monday [Nov. 15th] at Manhattan Central Booking and expect to expand the program to all five boroughs by early December, Mr. Browne said.

Mr. Browne said a legal review by the department had concluded that legislative authorization was not necessary. “Our legal review determined that these are photographs and should be treated the same as mug shots, which are destroyed when arrests are sealed,” he said.

[My bolding. Source]


It is clear that the US is gathering vast quantities of biometric data at transport hubs, immigration offices, police stations, conflict zones. Am I foolish to think that all this information might not one day be consolidated?

Not even considering Chomskyite accusations of US Imperialism based on military violence, could we not consider silos of biometric data (with global reach) as the foundation par excellence to empire in the networked 21st and 22nd centuries? As an invisible but intractable abundance of strategic knowledge and power?

I accept these questions probably mirror the fears of every era in which people first learn and then come to terms with new technologies that impinge upon the assumptions of the age regarding privacy and civil liberty. But still.


More from Federal Jack here.

Freelance photographer, Sebastian Meyer has a blog. The image above was sourced from this blog post. On his website, I recommend ‘How to buy a gun in London’