Technologies of Criminalization: On the convergence of forensic and surveillance technologies
Location 132
Date and Start Time 02 September, 2016 at 16:00
Sessions 3


  • Amade M'charek (University of Amsterdam) email
  • Helena Machado (University of Minho) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Simon Cole (University of California, Irvine, 1), Rafaela Granja (University of Coimbra,2), Amade M’charek (University of Amsterdam, 3)

Short Abstract

In this panel we explore the convergence of technologies and tactics aimed at solving crime (forensics) and technologies of control and oversight of population (surveillance). Doing so, our goal is to provoke a conversation between STS and Surveillance studies, about this assemblage in practice.

Long Abstract

This panel explores the convergence between forensics and surveillance. Papers will focus on the traffic of technologies of crime-solving (forensics) and technologies for managing the population (surveillance), allowing for a conversation between STS and Surveillance studies.

Technologies such as fingerprinting and DNA profiling are increasingly part of border management regimes, and can simultaneously be mobilized to investigate crime. Surveillance practices based on large data collection and data mining have become part and parcel of crime solving. We invite contributions that draw on material and empirical cases to help unpack the normativities and technologies and tactics across the fields of surveillance and forensics.

What happens when the logic of population management converges with that of crime solving? How does this affect the categories of people that these technologies are aimed at? Can we, given the pervasiveness of 'crime' as a matter of concern in science and society, speak of a criminalization of everyday life? These are urgent questions in the contemporary situation in Europe, with its contested border management regimes and its dealings with refugees and immigrants. But they are equally important in more mundane practices of oversight, where large datasets about populations can become part of crime solving or processes of incriminating certain categories of people.

Rather than assuming that technologies do the same kind of job everywhere we take inspiration from STS to open up the black boxes of forensic and surveillance technologies to examine the kind of interferences that come about once these technologies are put to use.


This track is closed to new paper proposals.


Travels and troubles of forensic genetic surveillance in the EU

Author: Helena Machado (University of Minho)  email

Short Abstract

Criminalization of population through the exchange of DNA data among EU countries is witnessing unprecedented expansion. By adopting a multi-site ethnography, I explore the intersections between geopolitics, national identities and assumptions about criminal bodies and criminal conducts.

Long Abstract

Close links between DNA technologies and surveillance of suspect populations are witnessing unprecedented expansion. A striking example is the development of reciprocal automated exchange of DNA data among EU countries for the purpose of combating crime. DNA technologies, together with ICT systems, legislations and science criminalize the body in a set of social relationships. Technologies of criminalization may have varying meanings and effects in different national contexts. By adopting a multi-site ethnography anchored on interviews, participant observation and analysis of policy documents, I explore the transnational exchange of DNA data as a container of intersections between geopolitics, national identities and assumptions about criminal bodies and criminal conducts.

The metaphor of travels and troubles will help me on three interrelated levels. Firstly, to map how DNA data travelling among countries feed the co-existence of controversies and more or less disputed issues, alongside the standardization and normalization of data comparison and data sharing. Secondly, to capture how DNA travel creates fractured and competing constellations of utopias and dystopias related to genetic surveillance, which re-articulate national identities and geopolitics. Thirdly, DNA travel implies softening disruptions and consensus building. For the criminal body to be legible in different countries, a common repertoire of material-technoscientific-cultural practices is needed, partly shaping social imaginaries about criminal bodies and criminal conducts.

Present and future travels and troubles of forensic genetic surveillance in the EU bring together disruptive and consensual ontologies by which genetics and social order are co-produced as inextricably material-discursive.

Aggregate Evidence: Predictive Policing Technologies and their Evaluation

Author: Till Straube (Goethe University - Frankfurt)  email

Short Abstract

Predictive policing systems are increasingly employed to anticipate criminalized behavior through statistical analysis. Several case studies highlight the various political and epistemological entanglements encountered by these programs and their 'evidence-based' evaluation.

Long Abstract

Policing practices are changing. Security assemblages in different parts of the world are increasingly incorporating a diverse set of data-driven technologies. Next to a new generation of surveillance equipment and data infrastructures, emerging devices include algorithms that aim to anticipate a variety of criminalized behavior. These predictive policing systems aggregate information from crime statistics, ongoing investigations and complementary datasets (such as weather forecasts) in order to recognize patterns, extrapolate into the future and identify optimal locations for crime mitigation measures.

Beyond concerns about data security and privacy, or the effectiveness of specific programs, predictive policing applications raise a novel set of questions for social science research. What does it mean for assumptions about criminal behavior and mitigating policies to be hard-coded into operational infrastructures? In which ways are emerging platforms challenging separations between the state and the private sector, or domains of crime and national security? Finally, how can the technical specifics of these programs be reconnected to the political contexts in which they emerged?

The proposed paper will present preliminary findings of an ongoing research project that closely examines variegated predictive policing systems in the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany. Of special interest are efforts undertaken to statistically prove the effectiveness of these programs in order to meet the requirements of the 'evidence-based policing' paradigm. This contribution's STS-inspired approach is interested in a detailed technical understanding of the concepts, systems and interfaces deployed, as well as the operational concerns by professionals tasked with their implementation and evaluation.

Predictive Policing: Geographies of Risk in the United States

Author: Ariel Ludwig (Virginia Tech )  email

Short Abstract

This presentation addresses predictive policing in the U.S. through the lenses of STS, critical geography and surveillance studies. These approaches highlight the normative assumptions about criminal risk encoded in algorithms while illuminating the ways that this technology perpetuates policing inequities.

Long Abstract

Predictive policing is the latest effort in a long line of technological and scientific (e.g. physiognomy, phrenology, genetics) attempts to predict crime. This presentation will discuss the contemporary proliferation of predictive policing products used in the United States (U.S.), illuminating their role as part of a dual strategy for managing populations through calculation and profiting from the criminalization of everyday life. Bringing STS, critical geography, and surveillance studies into conversation, this paper shows that the historical data used in predictive algorithms is marked by a legacy of inequity in which already marginalized and criminalized populations continue to be engaged in the cycle of recriminalization. Given this, predictive policing normalizes particular geographies, populations, and bodies as always already "at risk" and "criminal." In addition to illuminating the ways predictive policing constructs normativities and shapes the boundaries of criminality, the paper also imagines ways to push back against the touted "neutrality" of these technologies. This presentation concludes with an evaluation of the ethical and legal implications of predictive policing and offers a roadmap for future empirical work.

Emerging Forensic Technologies: Rapid DNA solutions in the UK

Author: Dana Wilson-Kovacs (University of Exeter)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the expectations surrounding Rapid DNA solutions (i.e. the automated extraction and analysis of DNA material from swabs taken at crime scenes or in custody), the deliberations surrounding their introduction and impact on the organization of forensic provision in the UK.

Long Abstract

This paper examines processes of co-production of DNA technologies for forensic purposes in the UK. It focuses on Rapid DNA (i.e. the fully automated extraction, amplification, separation and detection of DNA material from swabs taken at crime scenes or in custody) and the deliberations surrounding its introduction in policing. Providing test results in under two hours, the technology has implications for the speed of DNA processing, the potential saving costs to forces and the use of the National DNA Database. The development of Rapid DNA solutions has been supported by the Home Office since 2011 and different products trial-tested with forces. Based on document analysis of Home Office sources and in-depth interviews with different stakeholders (police, regulators and forensic support) the argument traces the ways in which the need for Rapid DNA has been (1) articulated and crystallised in official documents in terms of the benefits brought to policing and (2) made sense of in key stakeholders' accounts. The discussion focuses on the expectations surrounding Rapid DNA solutions in terms of the benefits they offer to policing, the operational problems they raise and the challenges they foretell. Examining Rapid DNA solutions as a further step in the rationalisation of forensic science use in British policing, the conclusion reflects on their place and role in the current forensic provision.

Putting a face to data, doing race with data

Authors: Amade M'charek (University of Amsterdam)  email
Bobby Witte  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses the convergence of surveillance and forensic technologies by attending to practice. It argues that the conflation of the aim of oversight in forensics (the individual), and that of surveillance, (the population), leads to the criminalization and racialization of population.

Long Abstract

This paper discusses the convergence between forensic and surveillance technologies. It argues that this convergence leads not only to the criminalization but also the racialization of particular groups of people. To show how in practice criminalization and racialization work together we will analyze an empirical case, a pilot aiming at aligning dactyloscopic data (fingerprints) and biometric photos. This pilot was prompted by incidences of so called identity fraud and aimed at proper administrative recording of the biometric identity of suspects and convicts. However the automated fingerprint databank does not only contain data about unsolved cases and convicts but also data about asylum seekers who are in no way connected to the criminal justice system. Detailing out the trajectory of the pilot, and connecting this to broader policy at the national and EU level about crime, identity fraud, surveillance of irregular migrants, we explore how diverse kinds of data is conjured up under the umbrella of crime solving, while reconfiguring categories of people.

Our theoretical intervention is connected to the very use of photographical material and the ways it adds a phenotype to the data. Attending not simply to what the face comes to represent but especially to what a face can do, we explore the possibility of face to both individualize and collectivize.

Geneticization, Datafication, and Visualization: The Reinvention of Race in New Policing Technologies

Author: David Skinner (Anglia Ruskin University)  email

Short Abstract

Using examples of recent innovations in policing in the United Kingdom, this paper examines the ways in which, in new technologies of social control, race thinking and race discrimination increasingly take place through three interconnected dynamics: genetization, datafication, and visualization.

Long Abstract

As the track abstract suggests, a feature of contemporary socio-technologies of control is the convergence of forensics and surveillance. The potentials of this emerging assemblage are well illustrated by the experiences of ethnic minorities in Europe and North America. These minorities are the subjects of another convergence: the blurring of States' concerns with migration, crime, and security.

This paper examines the ways in which, in technologies of policing, race thinking and race discrimination increasingly take place through three interconnected dynamics: genetization, datafication, and visualization. Genetic testing, biometrics and the application of other life science techniques establish the body as a site of truth about identity and biography. This process is in turn dependent on systems of data collection, storage and analysis. These systems bring together bioinformation with other kinds of historic and predictive objects. Facial images play a pivotal role in these technologies, reinforcing what Nakamura terms the 'racial-visual logic' of the digital.

The paper explores these themes using case studies taken from policing in the United Kingdom. It will consider recent debates about the reliability, validity and ethics of phenotype prediction using crime scene DNA. It will also consider recent experiments with so-called 'data-driven' policing and the troubled development of 'e-borders'. Lastly it will use the investigation of the 2011 London riots to show how the management of large numbers of images (facial or otherwise) has become central to the business of policing. In each of these cases, 'race' is a resilient if contested, motif.

Suspects' origin and DNA databases as a source of problematization

Author: Joëlle Vailly (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale)  email

Short Abstract

This presentation analyzes how DNA-based tests aimed at inferring suspects’ origin have been problematized (Foucault), in France. It shows that the question of the databases, real or perceived, compiled by laboratories and their potential political uses played a crucial role in the problematization.

Long Abstract

Forensics has started using new DNA-based tests aimed at inferring suspects' geographic origin. This presentation analyzes how recent practices in this domain have been "problematized", in Foucault's sense of the term, in the French republican context, and the role of the potential uses of any databases compiled by laboratories in this problematization. First, the launch of these new genetic tests is examined, offering a way of thinking through the work accomplished by actors who both fuel the pre-conditions for problematization and seek to deconstruct it. Then, I will focus on how this problematization is expressed, questioning the arguments used particularly by opponents who called upon ethical and political concerns regarding data use. Finally, current state regulations in this regard are outlined, showing how "points of problematization" have been construed. The study shows that the question of the databases, real or perceived, compiled by laboratories using these tests of origin and the potential political uses that could be made of them played a crucial role in the problematization. The potential discrimination of certain populations contrived to curb use of these tests in France, whereas it had very little impact on the use of traditional DNA profiles. The implications of this study for social science research on origin and on the life sciences will be discussed.

Forensic and Surveillance Technologies: From Evidence to Intelligence

Author: Simon Cole (University of California, Irvine)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses four case studies in which forensic technology, centered around legal processes such as trials, is transforming into surveillance technology, centered around intelligence and security.

Long Abstract

This paper focuses on one aspect of the convergence of forensic and surveillance technologies. As forensic and information technologies have become increasingly sophisticated and powerful, the role of forensic information has shifted from supporting legal proceedings toward becoming an end in itself. The state prefers "surveillance"—gathering and archiving "intelligence"—to "forensics"—actually adjudicating criminal cases. This paper argues that this trend is visible in an increasing number of areas; it pursues this argument across four case studies. The first is the trend toward "intelligence-led policing" and the reconceptualization of forensic evidence as intelligence. The second is the rise of so-called "lifestyle" forensics, which produce information not about individuals' identities, locations, or activities at the specific times of specific crimes, but rather about their broad behaviors across longer times spans. The third is the development of so-called "rogue" forensic databases by various state actors. The fourth is the state's preference for registering, rather than adjudicating, accused sex offenders. The paper will argue that these trends represent a convergence of forensic and surveillance technologies and a shifting of the state's focus from legal processes to intelligence and security as ways of dealing with those social problems generally described as "crime" (but increasingly including more "everyday" activities like immigration, political dissent, risky behavior, and so on). The implications of these developments will be discussed. This paper will contribute to the STS literature on forensic science and the surveillance studies literature, as well as the conversation between these literatures.

The Body as Evidence: Postcolonial Histories of Law and Society

Author: Itty Abraham (National University of Singapore)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the intersections and contradictions between the long history of the body as a source of evidence in the colonial courts (e.,g tattoos, fingerprinting) and today’s in-corporated technologies of identification and surveillance, from brain scans to DNA testing.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the intersections and contradictions between the long history of the body as a source of evidence in the colonial courts and today's in-corporated technologies of identification and surveillance. Fingerprinting, DNA testing, brain scans, polygraphs, and truth serums are all techniques of identification that have come to be seen as means of offering unimpeachable judicial truth. Indian biopolitical projects, beginning with the colonial census and including the ongoing Unique Identification project (Aadhar), have also come to foreground the body and body parts by using the latest biometric technologies, including retinal scans. Together, these judicial and political practices have produced a national database composed of discrete body parts that join social institutions with political discourses of rights and entitlements: a biopolitical apparatus. Reading a recent Supreme Court decision (Selvi vs. Karnataka) against the movement to ban amniocentesis demonstrates that each apparatus produces competing visions of society, individual rights, and the public interest. Hence, politics becomes redefined as a struggle over establishing one vision of society over another while the possibilities of social change become reduced to crisis management.

How Forensic Genetic and Surveillance Technologies Objectify Indigenous Peoples as Extreme Other

Author: Mark Munsterhjelm (University of Windsor)  email

Short Abstract

This paper shows how forensic and surveillance technologies objectify Indigenous peoples as extreme other by constituting these peoples as approximating life in a state of nature beyond sovereignty and prior to law.

Long Abstract

This paper shows how forensic and surveillance technologies objectify Indigenous peoples as extreme other by constituting these peoples as approximating life in a state of nature beyond sovereignty and prior to law. This article empirically analyzes how Indigenous peoples were used in the development of new technologies including the testing of the VisiGen Consortium's Identitas Forensic Chip (Keating et al, 2012), Parabon Nanolabs' Snapshot system, and Kenneth Kidd et al's ancestry SNP panels that have been integrated into Illumina and Life Technologies forensic genetic products. It demonstrates how forensic genetics and increasingly surveillance technologies have been built, in part, through the use of cell lines and data from various Indigenous peoples (e.g. the Karitiana and Surui of Brazil and the Truku and Pangcah of Taiwan) by constituting them as geographically isolated and genetically homogeneous due to high levels of consanguinity. The paper reveals however that these sovereignty enforcing assemblages of prestigious research institutions, state security agencies such as the FBI, and private biotech capital utilize a series of positive and negative exceptions that circulate Indigenous peoples as objects of exchange within the assemblages. However, the article also demonstrates how these assemblages have been affected by Indigenous peoples' resistance since the 1990s through the discourses of Indigenous sovereignty, transnational organizing and transformations in informed consent that have shifted international

Biosocial futures of the family in forensic DNA databases

Author: Rafaela Granja (University of Minho)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the biosocial processes entangled in the technique of familial searching in forensic DNA databases. An STS analysis points out how, through materialization processes, this innovation frames the family in new forms of genetic plasticity, and in ambiguous and malleable categories.

Long Abstract

The uses attributed to the storage of genetic information in large computerized forensic databases have been expanding, further enhancing the performativity of DNA in investigating and solving criminal cases. One innovative application is familial searching, a technology that allows finding crime perpetrators through their genetic connection with relatives whose profiles are included in forensic databases.

Recognising the generative power of forensic science in producing suspects through familial biogenetic ties, this paper explores how, through a heterogeneous assemblage of actors, technical instruments and understandings about science, technology, criminality and family, genetic fragments are integrated into a bundle of biosocial relations.

This process of genetic plasticity invites reflection upon three interrelated dimensions. The first one concerns the forms whereby familial searching materializes family within technology through technical processes of simplification, disregarding its biosocial and relational character. The second dimension relates to the potential of familial searching to turn relatives of people in the database into genetic suspects. Mobilizing genetic plasticity and turning DNA into an associating element, this investigative technique thus creates new forms of classifying families in ambiguous and malleable categories. The last one shows how, by being able to expand the biopolitical apparatus of governance technologies to flexible populations, familial searching also challenges and broadens the concept of biological citizenship.

Translations and Extensions of DNA Analysis for Family Reunification

Author: Anna-Maria Tapaninen (University of Eastern Finland)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses the deployment of DNA analysis in Finland. While the purpose of the procedure is to verify genetic relatedness between the alleged family members, the technology has varied potential for extending and translating the answers.

Long Abstract

Since 2000, the use of DNA analysis for family reunification has been a constant in Finland. It has been incorporated into legislation, carried out through centralized administrative and technological procedures, and quite routinely resorted to. DNA analysis is but one of the widespread technological tools in the increasingly restrictive immigration policies yet specific because it concerns relational identities. While the Aliens Act states that establishing family ties is the sole purpose of testing and that the samples and the data shall be destroyed, it is not clear what role it plays in decision-making. DNA analysis provides an answer that stands out because of its perceived precision and objectivity. The creation of the facts amounts to the creation of immutable mobiles (Latour 1986) within the complicated landscape of immigration that is permeated by doubt and strangeness. Yet, it is mobile also in terms of possible extensions and translations. Interpreting the details of genetic relatedness as proof of kinship ties is already a translation, but more than that, the results can be translated into proof of credibility and fraud. The background and the consequence of the quest for infallible truth is ubiquitous distrust of the applicants' claims. What are the purposes, consequences and possibilities of the deployment of scientific evidence for family reunification? How are the contingencies and results perceived by people on the move?

This track is closed to new paper proposals.