Document Type

Honors Project


Innovations in biotechnology, computer science, and engineering throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries dramatically expanded possible modes of data-based surveillance and personal identification. More specifically, new technologies facilitated enormous growth in the biometrics sector. The response to the explosion of biometric technologies was two-fold. While intelligence agencies, militaries, and multinational corporations embraced new opportunities to fortify and expand security measures, many individuals objected to what they perceived as serious threats to privacy and bodily autonomy. These reactions spurred both further technological innovation, and a simultaneous proliferation of hastily drafted policies, laws, and regulations governing the collection, use, and sharing of biometric data. In this paper, I argue that these policies are predicated on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of biometric information. Definitions of biometrics presume that “biologicalness” is binary. These definitions also imply, for a number of reasons, that biometric information is more dangerous than other kinds of personal information, therefore requiring stricter regulation. I propose an alternative explanation of biometrics, situating biometric information on a larger spectrum of personal information, rather than in a discrete category of its own. This revised definition of biometrics is necessary to effectively regulate personal information, particularly as the trend of rapid technological growth and change continues. I focus, in particular, on the implications of these findings in a transnational context, where transmission of personal information is largely unregulated, and has significant impact on international relations, security, and individual privacy.



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