Privacy, Credibility, and Expertise: Opposition to National Biometric Identification Systems - Michelle Spector (MIT visiting scholar)
From James Stewart on April 1st, 2020
How do anti-surveillance movements work in context? This paper traces the formation of two such movements: opposition to proposals for national biometric identification systems in the United Kingdom (2004-2010) and in Israel (2008-present). In both countries, opposition movements were led by academic experts in computer science, information science, and law, along with civil rights activists. Ultimately the British system was cancelled in 2010, and the Israeli system was implemented in 2017.
Although literature on surveillance and society tends to suggest that privacy concerns drive resistance to surveillance, the Israeli and British campaigns downplayed this topic. Data security concerns dominated the Israeli campaign, while costs dominated in the UK. Drawing on ethnographic and oral history interviews with Israeli and British activists, analyses of reports they produced, and concepts in Science and Technology Studies, the paper shows that their campaigns constantly negotiated tensions between ideals, like privacy, and pragmatism, the best way to achieve their goals. Both groups combined activism with expertise in different ways in order to build public and political credibility, and influence policies and technological designs for their countries’ respective systems. By comparing these movements, the paper also considers how these cases may lend insights into the ways publics participate in surveillance policymaking across national contexts.
Michelle is currently a fifth year student in the HASTS program at MIT, supervised by Jennifer Light. Her research examines the history and social dimensions of national biometric identification systems in Israel and the UK.