intellectual vanities… about close to everything

German Brave New World – Germany passport info debated

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BERLIN, April 12 — After many tiny and covert steps towards a German Brave New World, now German politicians are debating whether police should be allowed access to files of digital passport photographs and fingerprints. biometrischer_reisepass.jpg

A law has been drafted that would open photo files, Deutsche Welle reported.

In November, digitized fingerprints are to be added to the information stored in computer chips embedded on passports. The question of whether police can use those files is even more controversial.

The draft legislation reportedly includes language that would require deletion of fingerprint information from central files once a passport has been issued.

The Christian Democratic Party argues for saving fingerprints in the name of national security. The Social Democratic Party says that opens the door to violations of civil liberties. (Their Minister of Internal Affairs keeps dreaming instead of online search of private computers.)

biometric_passport.jpgSeems like Germany’s record under the Nazis and the tracking of citizens by Stasi — the secret police in the former East Germany, are still not teaching enough to stop every megalomaniac dreaming about absolute police power.

Power manifests itself in a relational manner: one cannot meaningfully say that a particular social actor “has power” without also specifying the role of other parties in the social relationship (for a discussion of this concept see Simmel’s work on ‘subordination’ and ‘superordination’).

Power almost always operates reciprocally, but usually not with equal reciprocity. To control others, one must have control over things that they desire or need, but one can rarely exercise that control without a measure of reverse control – larger, smaller or equal – also existing. For example, an employer usually wields considerable power over his workers because he has control over wages, working conditions, hiring and firing. The workers, however, hold some reciprocal power: they may leave, work more or less diligently, group together to form a union, and so on.

Because power operates both relationally and reciprocally, sociologists speak of the balance of power between parties to a relationship: all parties to all relationships have some power: the sociological examination of power concerns itself with discovering and describing the relative strengths: equal or unequal, stable or subject to periodic change. Sociologists usually analyse relationships in which the parties have relatively equal or nearly equal power in terms of constraint rather than of power. Thus ‘power’ has a connotation of unilateralism. If this were not so, then all relationships could be described in terms of ‘power’, and its meaning would be lost. panopticum_bentham.jpg

Foucault reasons about a theme of incarceration in Discipline and Punish: the birth of the prison (1975). Building on the archaeology of the asylum he examined how the institution of the prison based on control of the mind had replaced torture of the body as punishment using an 18th century execution and Bentham’s panopticon prison as contrasts. In the panopticon prison the all-seeing warder would sit in darkness observing the inmates without their knowing. Eventually, the degree of control would be such that the watchtower would need no occupant as the inmates would behave as if under constant surveillance and discipline themselves. For Foucault, this mind control reflected the idea that knowledge is power and can be used to dehumanise the individual. The torture and physical punishment of the past may have been brutal, but was also brief, infrequent, and preferable.

The prison represented the modern way of control through regulation, be it the panopticon, religion, society itself, or Freud’s idea of the all-knowing super-ego. Knowledge becomes a means of regulation and control seen in all institutions of incarceration, be they asylums, prisons, hospitals, barracks or schools. Modern society was where surveillance (an aggressive observation) was commonplace, exercised by police, psychiatrists, teachers, doctors, social workers and so on. Foucault saw this categorisation of the individual as dangerous and to be resisted.

panopticum_reflexion.gifFoucault saw the state as a peculiar advance and corruption of society and the individual. The state was not liberating, using ‘bio-power’ to exert control over it’s population. Through categorising and normalising individuals, the state can produce a totalising web of control. In effect, we live in the shadow of the state, and are forever caught in it’s spotlight.

Foucault sought liberation from these ‘totalising procedures’ of the anonymous state. In an age of computerisation, classification and technological surveillance the individual appears increasingly powerless and de-humanised. Foucault’s powerful image of the individual being erased ‘like a face drawn in the sand at the edge of the sea’ by this process gains the more weight, since western democracies started to wither. While citizens become more and more weary of exercising their democratic rights, G.W. Bush and his paladines in other countries are trying to recast what was meant to be the executive political structure in the old and dangerous mold of totalitarianism — all in the name of the war against terror.

Written by huehueteotl

April 13, 2007 at 11:06 am

One Response

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  1. […] In the panopticon prison the all-seeing warder would sit in darkness observing the inmates without their knowing. Eventually, the degree of control would be such that the watchtower would need no occupant as the inmates would behave as if under constant surveillance and discipline themselves. For Foucault, this mind control reflected the idea that knowledge is power and can be used to dehumanise the individual. [huehueteotl] […]


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