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In Session: Technology and the Human “Touch”: Histories of Automation and Interconnection in Japan
3: Patterns of Identity: Japanese Facial Recognition and the Production of the Biometric Image
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Michigan State University, United States
I examine, through the lens of facial recognition and other biometric technologies, how digital culture mediates new and emergent forms of identity and identification in Japan. As facial recognition has spread into everyday settings in recent years, Japanese technology firms have often led the way in its development and deployment around the world, even as US firms with wider brand recognition have garnered greater attention for their use of the technology. Notably, NEC, one of the dominant players in the global biometrics market, currently supplies its suite of facial recognition hardware and algorithms to customers, which include US police departments, the Hong Kong government and Carnival Cruises.
In my analysis, I consider recent developments in the Japanese facial recognition industry and their impact on digital identity. Discussions of facial recognition most frequently focus on its concerning use in law enforcement, and rightly so. I propose, however, that it is nonetheless necessary to appraise these disciplinary uses of the technology alongside those that aid in the collection of anonymized, aggregate data. Through its surveillance of facial features and gesture in retail settings, for example, facial recognition creates and analyzes classes of consumers based on their observed behavior, at the same that it seeks to identify and isolate potential shoplifters. Approaching these two sides of facial recognition in tandem, I suggest, illuminates the role digital systems now play in not simply verifying identity but also in producing identities in an ad hoc and fluid manner based on ubiquitous surveillance and data collection.