“A Cage of Information,” or, What is a Biometric Diagram?

“A Cage of Information,” or, What is a Biometric Diagram?


In Documentary Across Disciplines, eds. Erika Balsom and Hila Peleg, The MIT Press and Haus der Kulturen der Welt.

Documentary Across Disciplines

“I understand that I may be required to provide a record of my fingerprints and a photograph of my face (‘biometric data’) as part of my application. If I refuse to do so, my application may be treated as invalid and, if so, will not be considered further.”
—United Kingdom Visas & Immigration

In the spring of 2015, I accepted a teaching position at Goldsmiths College in the United Kingdom, and as a United States citizen, was quickly directed to commence my visa application. Immigration staff informed me that the visa scheme was currently under revision in the UK and that I would be applying to enter the country through a new biometric program. Thus, to complete the visa application, I was required to attend a biometric enrollment appointment at a US governmental building in Manhattan that shares office space with the Department of Homeland Security. The biometric enrollment facility was mostly filled with people immigrating to the US, as the UK outsources its biometric aggregation needs for visa applications from US citizens. Once called to a biometric scanning station, a woman silently took digital photographs of my face from different angles. Then, after putting on white, protective gloves, she took my fingers and carefully scanned them—one by one—over a sensing pad. I watched as images of my fingerprints visualized on a large computer screen, as each was captured, verified, and saved to a database by the biometric software. Some months later, Goldsmiths’ Immigration Policy Advisors emailed to inform me that my BRP, or Biometric Residence Permit, was ready to collect. An identification card separate from my passport, the BRP is the primary document that validates and confirms my right to live and work in the UK. On the card’s back, a small chip is implanted that stores, among other information, all of my biometric data. Due to this, no signature is required.