Biometric surveillance and big data governance

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

6 Scopus citations


This chapter contends that the biometric surveillance systems and precrime rationales fictionally portrayed in Steven Spielberg’s film Minority Report are now emerging as a governance reality. Biometric surveillance and big data “collect it all” programs are proliferating under preemptive approaches to combatting crime and terrorism. Public and private decisionmaking protocols increasingly depend upon biometric identification technologies - scanned fingerprints and irises, digitalized photos for facial recognition technology, DNA, etc. A biometric identifying anchor - a digitally scanned fingerprint and iris or digital photo, for example - once located in a database, can then be used as a data backbone to support multiple big data tracking and cybersurveillance systems. Biometric-centered data surveillance methods, thus, are often presented as an efficient form of identity screening and as capable of advancing preventive policing goals. As a result, biometric data is evolving into a data surveillance axis. It can tether a person’s physical identity to algorithmic-driven biographical and behavioral data screening and analysis. It can also be deployed to assess future risk and to isolate data deemed suspicious. The chapter concludes that without a Minority Report-type heuristic, the impact of contemporary biometric surveillance and big data governance cannot be fully understood. Introduction Minority Report is set in the year 2054 and revolves around a newly established “Department of Precrime.” Based upon a 1956 science fiction short story by Philip K. Dick, Minority Report is a 2002 mystery-thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg. The Department of Precrime is a criminal justice agency tasked with identifying and eliminating crimes before they occur. Precrime assessments in Minority Report depend upon computer analysis of the images and utterances produced by a trio of psychic “precog[nitive] mutants.” In the film, the Department of Precrime has been adopted into a new system of public and private governance that is heavily dependent upon biometric surveillance, or surveillance of the physiological and behavioral characteristics of the populace. Although Minority Report is born from science fiction, experts note that the biometric surveillance capacities and precrime policy rationales depicted in the film are beginning to emerge as a modern governance reality. In the Spielberg film, biometric-based identification technologies are integrated into day-to-day policing and the modern digital economy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of Surveillance Law
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages29
ISBN (Electronic)9781316481127
ISBN (Print)9781107137943
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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