Accepted paper:

Forensic and Surveillance Technologies: From Evidence to Intelligence


Simon Cole (University of California, Irvine)

Paper 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.

Paper 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.

panel T084
Technologies of Criminalization: On the convergence of forensic and surveillance technologies