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The Role of the Biometric State in the War on Terror: Analytical Essay

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In this analysis, I develop a definition of the biometric state based on Muller’s interpretation, constituting, ‘securitization, governing through risk, and the widespread application of biometric technology and surveillance, within the context of specific assumptions about liberty, security, and identity.’ It is my contention, the biometric state emerged as a new mode of governance in the United States following September 11, 2001 (9/11). The biometric state is playing a role in the War on Terror by attempting to unify a network of power and surveillance technology and strategies in the to prevent a future strike. To illustrate this i show the surveillance of mobility is not limited to the state, but also is practiced in both private security firms and the homeland security citizen. Foucault calls this a new non-disciplinary power, for example, virtual borders in the United States are manifesting the biometric state to secure mobility, and govern and mange everyday life. Thus virtual borders are penetrating spaces of civil society and engaging the homeland security citizen in the war against terrorism due to a survivor society— risk society is created.

The first section serves as the theoretical arm of the paper in which I explore Foucaldian thought and Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon to discover the connection to American security post 9/11. In the second section, I illustrate the logic of preemption and preventive warfare the Bush administration justified as the main strategy to fighting the war against terrorism. To advance my argument, I show the emergence of the homeland security citizen within a new survivor society. I evaluate the notion of ‘target of opportunity,’ watchful politics, and the precautionary principle that are colonizing areas of everyday life and investigate a new sense of sovereign— the visual sense. In the final section, I turn to the rise of the homeland security market and argue public and private companies are overlapping in a quest to enhance security apparatus and increasingly relying on algorithmic calculations for preventing future terror attack.


Foucault plays a central role in this analysis and will be referred to throughout the paper as a constructive framework. The Foucaldian sense of governmentally combines both government and rationality in defining the “art of government” which assume a common desire to rule. Foucault introduced biopolitics as a new form of power in a neoliberal society much like the United States where power is decentralized, and citizens participate in self-governance via the marketplace. Under these circumstances, power is not only distributed top-down, rather is engaging in various control techniques that include forms of social control in disciplinary institutions as well as forms of knowledge. In short, biometrics refer to the measurement of life and specifically, the biological characteristics of an individual that constitute its identity. For Foucault, biometrics is an example of ‘biopower’ — a form of power managing the biological existence of individuals and populations. Biopolitics are various mechanisms deployed to measure the politics of life and bodies. I argue soveirngty is not lost, rather is continuing to evolve in which bodies become the sovereign sense. In a demanding information society and the War on Terror, the accessibility and widespread use of biometric technology, is a looming mechanism for security and is embodying a deeper form of governance.

Panoptic Surveillance

The panopticon— put forward by philosopher Jeremey Bentham, is a useful metaphor to analyze the role of the biometric state in the War on Terror because although it represents a prison, it is a system of control and comparable to contemporary security practice in the United States. In Bentham’s panopticon, the observer is constantly watching the subjects and they are aware of this; though, for the observer to internalize surveillance to become a new reality, subjects are required to accept these regulations. In this regard, power is gained from observing knowledge by monitoring the population. The panopticon metaphor enabled Foucault to explore systems of social control and the relationship between the government and its citizenry, in turn conceptualized power and knowledge as a circular process in society and noted the efficiency of power enforced through mechanisms of observation. Accordingly, in the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration— the powerful observer, sought new objects of knowledge to fight the War against Terrorism by calling upon private actors in the marketplace to enhance surveillance and control. For Foucault, he acknowledges the danger of the pantoptican because the observer is manufacturing individuals to a particular social order. Given this, the biometric state is ubiquitously deploying surveillance technology that is penetrating urban spaces and institutions to mange the totality of the population . Unlike subjects in the pantoptican that are aware of constant surveillance, American citizens are at times aware of surveillance; however, are not usually, because the biometric state deploy surveillance in spheres of everyday life that is justified in the War on Terror.

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Panoptic Paradox: Homeland Security Citizen

Traditional methods of surveillance and control focused on automation and networking of technologies, albeit the biometric state is diluting traditional theories of surveillance because the use of biometric technology is governing both the mobility and enclosure of bodies. For Lyon, he conceptualizes this surveillance as a method of social control; however, it is not surprising that in an age of emerging interconnectivity where network systems are collecting vast amount of data, neoliberal societies are turning to social sorting as a mechanism of surveillance.


In the aftermath of 9/11, American society underwent a state of permanent emergency that required sweeping action to prevent a future strike. To illustrate this, the aftermath of 9/11 fostered a state of emergency that fostered preemption to allow military-like responses to civilian issues, thus the Bush administration used disaster as a framework to justify its actions. “Threats must be elevated before they even materialize,” powerfully spoken by President Bush that reflect the doctrine of preemption. Preemptive strikes are based on a predetermined and inevitable future that is distancing the need for evidence in an effort to block accusations of irrationally and dissent.Thus the population is compelled to look to the President as their salvation. Despite the magnitude of 9/11, Bush announced citizens must remain shopping and continue to engage in everyday activities as the state will protect the nation, this is termed, disaster capitalism. The notion of a preventable future exists in the ‘National Security Strategy’ document in 2002 as it explicitly writes, ‘attacks can be prevented, the War on Terror is finite, and global terrorism can be defeated.’ The debate between security and liberty is amplified in this regard because pre-emptive logic permits prevention striking despite evidence of a coming attack, and in the biometric state where surveillance technology is ubiquitous and unregulated, acting with certainty to a threat that is unforeseen is unlikely to yield inaccurate predictions. Thus, the role of the biometric state is significantly powerful in fighting the War on Terror because surveillance is not limited to the security apparatus, but also is operating in social spaces and institutions that are controlling, tracking, and modifying behaviour. This is precisely the problem Orwell articulated, the fear of transparency between the state and its citizenry, though, I contend this symbolizes the United States’s security assemblage after 9/11 that complete reorganized in its mission for increasing surveillance security measures beyond traditional soveirngty. In short, security assemblage is termed as a set of loosely linked systems that are proliferating across state institutions and non-state institutions, albeit unevenly. It is a mistake to view this assemblage in leu of the state apparatus, but rather reinforcing one another, much like Foucault’s work on the relationship between power and knowledge.

Survivor Society

It is my contention American society following 9/11 created an environment of inevitable attacks, in which inevitably is dominating the common mode of thinking. As a result, American citizens are increasingly adapting too, and reconfiguring into a survivor society. The rhetoric of survivor society is amplified through hyper-individualism, regarding identical to public participation in the marketplace and additionally I describe as disaster capitalism. Under these circumstances, the neoliberal model is embodied as a new response to war and is enabling the possibility for individuals to wage on future attacks. However, an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear is emergent as a predetermined future with inevitable outcomes is only visible by a privileged group of public and private elites.

Social control in a survivor society is enhancing state power, for example, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched the ‘Ready Campaign’ in 2003 that was designed to prepare Americans to respond to terrorist attacks. This is an ultimate effort to engage the population in fighting the war against terrorism and simultaneously fuelling the survivor society. A data company, Town compass LLC, conceived in Seattle, published a ‘Terrorism Survival’ package that included a database for ‘Most Wanted Terrorists.’ Similar to the Ready Campaign, this firm is marketing personal products for citizens to access online and freely download. It is my contention the Ready Campaign and Town Compass LLC represent governing through risk, using the precautionary principle— an approach to risk management that is developed in circumstances of uncertainty and in this case, terrorism. A risk society is created by governing through risk, thus, in the War on Terror, risks are ‘manufactured’ as Beck argues, and cannot accurately measure the level of threat because the threat is uncertain.. For Aradau and Van Munster, precautionary risk is striving to govern the ungovernable, which is demonstrated in the preemptive logic of the Bush doctrine. The pre-assessment of risk and pre-emptive logic is fundamental to governing through risk and is helping to form the emerging biometric state.

Research ANd Development Corporation (RAND) is an American think tank and critical to the War on Terror as a political player embracing neoliberalism and a branch to the government, its ability to promote active preparedness to the nation is the foundation for U.S. security policy. For example, a publication in RAND’s homeland security documents, ‘Individual Preparedness and Response to Unconventional Terrorist Attacks,’ provided reference cards for Americans to prepare and play a role in the War on Terror. The notion of the survivor society is reinforced as these cards are framed counterintuitively for citizens to bear responsibly in the War against terrorism. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an advanced technological branch of the U.S Department of Defense and investigates new technologies for national security. The role of the biometric state in the War on Terror largely widened the scope of technology for surveillance, for example, Total Information Awareness (TIA) emerged as a mass surveillance program in 2003 and was founded on the logic of preemption and predictive powers. Despite immense scepticism and criticism overtly rejecting models that seemingly predict future outcomes, the biometric state fostered a new form of intelligence-gathering— algorithmic calculations, as the solution to the War on Terror. Regardless of TIA shutting down, it was the initial project of its kinda, and to an extent, benchmarking the performance of public and private biometric surveillance companies.

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The Role of the Biometric State in the War on Terror: Analytical Essay. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 11, 2023, from
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