Accepted paper:

Identity, transparency and other visibilities: A liquid surveillance perspective of biometric identity.


Shyam Krishna (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper studies 'Aadhar' - India's national biometric digital identity program under a 'liquid surveillance' lens exploring surveillant power and associated politics of the project which seeks a seeming trade-off between citizen privacy and its modernist and developmentalist purpose.

Paper long abstract:

Given its exceptional scale and speed of implementation, and the inclusion and development promised, 'Aadhaar', the national biometric digital identity program of India is abound with controversies, as with many biometric identity projects before. While biometrics has been widely studied as an instrument of state's panoptic surveillance, this paper presents a reading of Aadhaar using 'liquid surveillance' as its lens. Aadhaar in such a view ostensibly operationalises state's surveillant visibility over the citizen. At the same time, a seeming counter visibility to this is wielded by the citizen, presented as the transparency facilitated by Aadhaar. Further, newer and more liquid forms of surveillance emerge as citizen-to-citizen visibility is also enabled by private use of Aadhaar facilitated biometric screening. The individuals ultimately play multiple roles from being the watched to the watcher and in certain cases being both. The paper explores the aspect surveillance in both policy and media discourses associated with Aadhaar. The discussion seeks to juxtapose the inherent surveillant power that the state exercises and the claimed benefit of transparency and governmental efficiency afforded to the citizens. Power in this surveillant and modernist project manifests itself as a trade-off between voluntary surrender of citizen privacy and subsequent identification in exchange for the benefit of effective and transparent governmental services.

panel P01
Power, politics and digital development [Information, Technology and Development Study Group]