Identifying Threat: New biometrics markets and terror culture

The culture of fear and distrust that has grown up around this
century’s terror culture and its associated wars has created vast new
markets for anything that can be branded with the words security or
defence. In April 2010, London’s Kensington Olympia will play host to a
Counter Terror Expo, put on by DSEi’s infamous events’ organiser,
Clarion, and sponsored by French arms company, Thales.

[] Officially
supported by a plethora of military, police and private security
associations, the expo will showcase over 250 security, surveillance
and specialist logistics companies; state agencies including NATO and
the MoD; and anyone else claiming to provide protection against
terrorism for both the armed forces and civilian populations. Joining
the fray are a number of corporations involved in creating identity
verification technologies. The biometrics and database management
companies whose invasive products, based on the recognition of
physiological characteristics, are finding voice as futuristic
’solutions‘ in, what is deemed, an ‚increasingly dangerous world‘.

The promotion of ID-for-all follows a peculiar logic
whereby individual safety is equated with collective criminalisation.
In the wake of 9/11, state agencies, aided by the corporate media, can
single out individuals, named or otherwise, as posing a threat to all,
not necessarily because of what they do or have done, but because of
who they are. This has created a framework in which it seems perfectly
reasonable, under the auspices of preventing a ‚terrorist attack‘, to
individually identify each member of the population, to establish
whether they are ‘threatening’ or ‘safe’ by categorising them using a
highly specific set of criteria. Identifying, marking and categorising
a population is a continuous process and the attempt to identify those
who pose a ‚threat‘ in truth criminalises all members of the community
by virtue of subsuming all in a system of suspicion, surveillance and
identification. Aside from the stark possibilities for abuse that
increasingly comprehensive cataloguing of a population creates, the
advisability of, and motivations behind, the safety-in-databases
concept remains relatively unchallenged in the mainstream. Despite the
mandatory nature of proposed national identity schemes, as it stands
biometric security systems do have to be sold to, or at least accepted
as unavoidable by, whichever population they are applied to. The
manufacturers of these systems employ a potent mix of nowhere-is-safe
fearmongering with a sycophantic insistence that those who invest in
its technologies are wisely ahead of the pack. They are providing
unparalleled safety for their
employees/students/personnel/establishment, whilst simultaneously
buying a “bespoke” piece of the future, complete with suitably
high-status branding and a form of corporate vanguardism that
maintains, perhaps correctly, that it is perched on the brink of a new

Exhibitor Focus

Identification technologies are by no means a side issue in
terror-profiteering; five of the 26 specialist areas laid out in the
Counter Terror Expo’s Exhibitor Profile list fall under the bracket of
identity verification technologies, in addition to those relating to
various forms of surveillance. In coming months, Corporate Watch will
be focussing on the projects of a number of companies involved in
biometric technologies and that will be profiting under the Counter
Terror banner at next year’s expo.
We begin here with Human Recognition Systems. Originally a Liverpool
based company, Human Recognition Systems has expanded seismically into
an international venture and claims to be the UK leader in biometric
technologies and consultancy. Boasting that it is a key member of
“global consortia” developing national ID schemes, HRS is working to
significantly extend its operations to the Middle East and elsewhere.
The company has invested in a multitude of security systems ventures.
Partnered with a host of other biometrics and surveillance companies,
HRS is a provider of iris, hand, finger, face and vein biometrics. The
company also develops the behaviour recognition technologies being used
at airports to identify potentially ‘threatening’ individuals by
computer rather than by eye. Current high profile contracts include
consultancy and ‘solutions’ for the Department of Health, the MoD, the
Prison Service, the Home Office, Manchester Airport and the Latvian
government. HRS has recently completed a project for the London 2012
Olympics, involving the cataloguing of the iris and hand specifications
of 8,000 workers at the Olympic construction site in East London. The
project is the first of its kind in the UK in that it combines iris and
hand recognition in one system. HRS chief executive Neil Norman
(formerly of corporate management consultancy, Accenture) stated rather
oddly in the Liverpool Daily Post that the new system was accurate and
effective “for the typical worker”, and both Olympic officials,
ministers and the media have fallen over themselves to point out what a
"stringent anti-terror" measure this constitutes.

Involvement in Universities

Human Recognition Systems’ business is extremely broad, particularly as
it combines biometrics with surveillance through its behaviour
recognition arm. However, of particular significance to the growth of a
database society is the considerable investment that HRS has received
over the past two years from the Capital Values Group. Indeed, the
executive vice president of the Capital Values Group, Andrew Lee, is
also chairman of HRS. Engaged in a similarly ruthless mission of
international expansion, the Capital Values Group capitalises on the
rebranding of real estate, turning it into high end student
accommodation, kitted out with all the security specifications a client
could wish for. The “discreet, proactive” security offered by the
company includes 24 hour management by actual staff, as well as
unmanned biometric entry systems. Aside from its contribution to an
increasingly exclusive, corporately driven system of higher education,
by working with HRS, the Capital Values Group is helping to push
biometric technologies on a favourite guinea pig group: students.
Existing as a reasonably closed community, essentially governed by
their university management and often living in homogenised, maintained
accommodation, student populations form a social microcosm that is
ideal for the testing and application of biometric security systems.
Last year, the UK government unveiled the first stage of its varyingly
successful attempt to implement a national ID card scheme by requiring
all non-EU foreign students to carry an ID card containing biometric
data at all times.
Although the Capital Values Group’s major completed projects are in
Australia, the company has an office in London and is planning to move
into Asia, the Middle East and Europe, beginning with student
accommodation developments in London. The corporate website plays
heavily on parents’ fears for their children flying the nest for a new
city as a justification for the high levels of security technology
involved in its developments. The UK has already seen instances of
racial and political profiling by universities of their students, with
severe crackdowns on campus politics and tutors asked by the state to
‘keep tabs’ on foreign students and their work and to log their
attendance. HRS is supplying all the products necessary to facilitate
and heighten this discrimination, but also to feed into wider society
generations of graduates, brought up under the looming ‚threat of
terrorism‘, for whom the constant logging of personal information and
physiological data is normalised and almost unchallengeable. As
universities across the UK move towards more business-based models for
both education and facilities, high tech security systems can fit very
neatly into the ethos and design of the glossy, branded utopias that
campuses increasingly aspire to be.

Potential for unhindered growth

The identification technology sector has in its very nature the
potential to be immensely profitable. Whether paid for by governments
employing its technologies, the individuals subjected to them or the
corporations adopting increasingly high tech, high status security
systems, the products are designed for a universal market as their
whole purpose requires the inclusion of every individual in a
particular population, national or otherwise. The discourse of the
terror-threat is not only politically and financially profitable, its
strength also lies in its endless potential for expansion.‘Terror’ as a
buzzword is now so strong that it can, and is, being applied to
everything from warfare, weapons sales and immigration policy to
surveillance expansion, political dissent and policing practices.
Moreover, it is an inexhaustible resource: the ‘Wars on Terror’ are
used to create more, not fewer, reasons to fear terrorism, whilst
police anti-terror operations identify more and more people as
‘domestic extremists’. For every new ‚threat‘, there is of course a new
technology to ‘combat’ it. The apparently unstoppable growth of the
omnipresent danger of ‚terror‘ legitimises constant development in
biometric technology, requiring users of these products to constantly
update and replace existing systems, in line with new security
requirements and neatly ensuring technological market remains dynamic
and profitable.

A campaign is forming against the Counter Terror Expo, for more information see