Nelson, Lisa S.: America Identified: Biometric Technology and Society.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Qualls, Michael
Pub Date: 03/22/2012
Publication: Name: International Social Science Review Publisher: Pi Gamma Mu Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Pi Gamma Mu ISSN: 0278-2308
Issue: Date: Spring-Summer, 2012 Source Volume: 87 Source Issue: 1-2
Topic: NamedWork: America Identified: Biometric Technology and Society (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Nelson, Lisa S.
Accession Number: 294895896
Full Text: 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. This is not explored.

The author ignores the fact that most current bio-metric systems are limited in scope and purpose (e.g., retinal eye scans for access to a high security project), and that many information systems using modern technology are not bio-metric. They are used to provide a higher level of security to operations that may be sensitive or may require compartmentalization. Many entry devices that require personal information for identification and may have a camera observing the individual are not bio-metric; the camera is not comparing the facial features of the individual as is done with the more expensive facial recognition software. Normally that is used to evaluate large groups of individuals and pick out anyone who falls within the parameters of the software. One final area of concern for this reviewer was the privacy considerations. Nelson uses studies by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Freedom Foundation, which were primarily concerned with the individual's privacy. The current court standard is a reasonable expectation of privacy, which the author fails to mention.

Nelson's study is one that would have to be done eventually as technology begins to catch up with what is portrayed on television and in movies. There will always be those who will be leery about sharing personal information with others. Knowing the types of attitudes that are explored in her study will assist those who will dream up the next wow factor. It may also foster discussions as to how emerging technology may affect the rights of individuals and what must be done or understood to protect those rights.

Michael Qualls, M.S.

Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice

Fort Valley State University

Fort Valley, Georgia
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.