Surveillance and identification technologies: witnessing at a distance

The first group of surveillance and identification technologies that I will consider is concerned with the monitoring of physical presence of people. Surveillance technologies aim to establish the fact of who is present and who is absent at a certain time in a certain place.

By using video or infra-red cameras, by using GPS tracking devices and so on, our physical presence or absence is monitored. The body does not have to do anything to be noticed. The objective of surveillance technologies is that a person cannot influence whether he or she is monitored. It wants to aggregate objective proof of physical presence. Technology functions as a witness to a person's presence beyond this person's influence. The question is whether, and how, being monitored, being witnessed, influences people.

Identification technologies aim to establish a unique identity, which moves through different places at different times. To establish this unique identity one or more variables are measured. The more variables that are measured, the more unique the result. In this process of individuation, the presence of the body is equally crucial. Through DNA analysis or an eye scan, for example, the unique identity of a person can be established. These are considered to be unchangeable characteristics of the physical identity of a body, even though it is a pre-fixed set of variables that are combined and interpreted. In these identification strategies technology 'operates' our physical presence like a surgeon to establish our unique identity. In this sense these technologies also ameliorate the distance to a person by invading more deeply into the body and making it subject to calculations of probability.note 23