Identity as convention: Biometric passports and the promise of security

Maren Behrensen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose – The paper is a conceptual investigation of the metaphysics of personal identity and the ethics of biometric passports. The paper aims to discuss these issues.

Design/methodology/approach – Philosophical argument, discussing both the metaphysical and the social ethics/computer ethics literature on personal identity and biometry.

Findings – The author argues for three central claims in this paper: passport are not simply representations of personal identity, they help constitute personal identity. Personal identity is not a metaphysical fact, but a set of practices, among them identity management practices (e.g. population registries) employed by governments.The use of biometry as part of these identity management practices is not an ethical problem as such, nor is it something fundamentally new and different compared to older ways of establishing personal identity. It is worrisome, however, since in the current political climate, it is systematically used to deny persons access to specific territories, rights, and benefits.

Originality/value – The paper ties together strands of philosophical inquiry that do not usually converse with one another, namely the metaphysics of personal identity, and the topic of identity in social philosophy and computer ethics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-59
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of information, communication and ethics in society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Biometric passports
  • Conventionalism
  • Ethics of migration
  • Identity practices
  • Personal identity


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