Nelson, Lisa S.: America Identified: Biometric Technology and Society.

Author:Qualls, Michael
Position:Book review

Nelson, Lisa S. America Identified: Biometric Technology and Society. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011. viii +258 pages. Cloth, $32.00.

At the outset of this study, Lisa S. Nelson, an associate professor in the Graduate School of Public International Affairs and Fellow in the Department of Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh, states that she seeks to explore "societal perceptions of biometric technology" (p. vii). In her introduction, Nelson provides an overview of the biometric systems that are in operation today or may be in the near future, and explains that biometric patterns are used to interconnect or link the individual to the patterns. The connectivity from the patterns is defined by the individual's perceptions of what information is being gathered about him or her. The author also connects these perceptions with how that information is being guarded or maintained, and how it will be used in his or her future relationships with the organizations that have it.

Nelson provides an adequate evaluation of the historical antecedents of biometric technology, some of the growth areas, and areas that have died out and become little more than historical footnotes. While both "users" and "non-users" are included in this study, it is never clear exactly what parts of "bio-metric technology" are being evaluated. The author seems more focused on an exploration of the motivations of people to provide information about themselves to institutions for the purposes of identification.

Nelson explores avenues of privacy, confidentiality, trust, morals, ethics, perceptions, anonymity, and autonomy of the decision-making process to explain how and why a person would be likely to trust a particular entity with personal information. This is probably useful to the sociologist, psychologist, or advertising committee who are interested in motivations of people to a particular appeal, and how to convince the individual that surveillance or other information-gathering processes are benign. But practitioners expect to use the information for their own purposes...

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