Bodies of Information

Data, Distance, and Decision-making at the Limits of the War Prison

This chapter will appear in the forthcoming Algorithmic Life: Calculation in the Age of Big Data edited by Louise Amoore and Volha Piotukh

In the past decade, a new form of bodily capture premised on the acquisition and distribution of digital biometric information has begun to redefine the spatial limits of military detention. As biometric enrollment has become a more common military tool, and the information it procures distributed to civilian and military databases alike, identity is increasingly linked to a series of relational effects—group affiliations, family histories, travel itineraries, banking records—of which the physical body is just one manifestation. On the battlefield, biometrics are thus aimed at enabling an automated interpretation of the relationship between bodies and a field of information in order to facilitate a specific decision: to validate or invalidate movement or employment; to establish the parameters for military detainment; to track; or to allow safe passage. Flitting between data capture and bodily capture at the speed of bandwidth, this kind of apprehension remaps the landscape of detainee capture into a performance inseparable from technologies that seek to anticipate and spatially isolate emerging threats.

In this paper, I map the encounters that generate these thresholds between inside and outside, highlighting the geographically distributed actors operating via multiple technological interfaces: warfighters with enrollment devices in the field; analysts, algorithms, and computer processors at desks in West Virginia. I also detail the sites of encounter where biometric information is generated. While digital databases are supposedly indifferent to the information they contain, sites of data production are politically varied and geographically discrete. For some, the interface is literally thrust upon them.