The biometric assemblage: surveillance, experimentation, profit and the measuring of refugee bodies

Madianou, Mirca. 2019. The biometric assemblage: surveillance, experimentation, profit and the measuring of refugee bodies. Television and New Media, 20(6), pp. 581-599. ISSN 1527-4764 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Biometric technologies are routinely used in the response to refugee crises with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) aiming to have all refugee data from across the world in a central population registry by the end of 2019. The article analyses biometrics, AI and blockchain as part of a technological assemblage, which I term the biometric assemblage. The article identifies five intersecting logics which explain wider transformations within the humanitarian sector and in turn shape the biometric assemblage. The acceleration of the rate of biometric registrations in the humanitarian sector between 2002 and 2019 reveals serious concerns regarding bias, data safeguards, data-sharing practices with states and commercial companies, experimentation with untested technologies among vulnerable people, and, finally, ethics. Technological convergence amplifies risks associated with each constituent technology of the biometric assemblage. The paper finally argues that the biometric assemblage accentuates asymmetries between refugees and humanitarian agencies and ultimately entrenches inequalities in a global context.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


biometrics, artificial intelligence, blockchain, refugees, humanitarian organisations, technological convergence.

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


22 May 2019Accepted
2 July 2019Published Online
1 September 2019Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

13 Jun 2019 11:07

Last Modified:

04 Dec 2019 17:47

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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