DA says Speaking Spanish in Public and Wearing Sportswear Signify Gangsterism
Santa Barbara, CA -- What can we learn from the medieval church about biometric identification? Quite a lot it turns out, at least according to Santa Barbara city officials.
Biometrics is the science of human identification based upon an individual’s unique characteristics, which are used to classify them for authorized activities and pursuits. This technique gathers information about the appearance and mannerisms of an individual, using markers like fingerprints, iris scans, facial recognition and gait to determine whether or not the individual will be permitted entry to restricted sites or become the target of surveillance.
Social classification is a function of institutional paradigms in any epoch. In the Middle Ages, the dominant social institution was the church and one of its greatest concerns was identifying those suspected of heresy, witchcraft or demonic possession. Church officials developed several ingenious methods for identifying such individuals. For example, they could examination the suspect’s body for telltale warts, moles, birthmarks and other signs of heresy, or even test them by throwing them into a pond to see whether they would float. Individuals who floated were deemed witches and promptly burned at the stake, while those who sank...well. Many an alleged heretic and witch met their fate at the stake for failing such church biometric standards.
Since at least the 18th century, the dominant social institution involved in such “scientific” stigmatization of individuals based on physical characteristics or behaviors has been the state, and one of its biggest concerns has been the identification of those considered to be predisposed to criminal behavior.
Nineteenth century biometric techniques included the “science” of phrenology, a method of cranial measurement that was believed to map the human head for signs of unusually concentrated brain activity as evinced by the bumps, protrusions, and other outward manifestations of potentially deviant cognitive dispositions. Though later dismissed as psuedoscience, dedicated phrenologists nevertheless played a role in the development of the idea -- still widely held -- of the innate criminality of certain groups based on the observable traits and mannerisms of their members.
Fast forward to present-day biometric discussions prompted by the national security state and its growing interest in the identification of terrorists — particularly domestic terrorists as defined by the Patriot Act. On that front, Santa Barbara’s city prosecutor Hilary Dozer last month made the case for a gang injunction in the Superior Court of Judge Colleen Stern. His goal is to combat the alleged public nuisance posed by Latino youth in this university city about 100 miles north of Los Angeles.