Northumbria University Centre for Forensic Science

Circuits of Surveillance

R. Williams & P. Johnson. Surveillance and Society, 2(1), pp. 1-14. (2004).


This paper examines the increasing police use of DNA profiling and databasing as a developing instrumentality of modern state surveillance. It briefly notes previously published work on a variety of surveillance technologies and their role in the governance of social action and social order. It then argues that there are important differences amongst the ways in which several such technologies construct and use identificatory artefacts, their orientations to human subjectivity, and their role in the governmentality of citizens and others. The paper then describes the novel and powerful form of bio-surveillance offered by DNA profiling and illustrates this by reference to an ongoing empirical study of the police uses of the UK National DNA Database for the investigation of crime. It is argued that DNA profiling and databasing enable the construction of a ‘closed circuit’ of surveillance of a defined population.

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