The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity

Civil Registration Centre for Development, The Hague and the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, Johannesburg

Citizens, Communities and the Rise of Biometrics in England

Historically the ムcitizenメ, or at least the individual who could claim rights, in England was identified communally. Baptisms, marriages and burials were rites of passage into and out of the local community of the parish faithful, and their registration underpinned the communally recognized rights to property and welfare that went with them. One claimed rights to poor relief by being recognised as belonging to a parish via the concept of a settlement. The right to vote was attached to property, or status, that was also recognised by the community. Only deviants were identified through the body via external marks of shame (brands, tattoos, mutilation) that symbolized an inner, unique soul given over to evil. The 20th century saw the blurring of this distinction, with increasing use of the body and bodily structures to identify all citizens. Biometrics is an extension of this, which does not even identify a unique individual but deals in the probability that two sets of data are the same. What are the political, social and emotional consequences of this effacement of the individual and the community?

Event reference: 
The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity