Pop Culture Identity Management: X-Men – Part Two

Previously in Pop Culture Identity Management we took a look at the new superhero movie X-Men: Days of Future Past, a movie that contains a number of biometric technologies, all years ahead of their time, working, failing and being used for any number of thrilling story elements.

Since June is Multi-Modal Month here at findBIOMETRICS, X-Men makes a great subject for PCIM. There are two reasons for this:

1. The films in the X-Men franchise feature a diverse range of biometric technologies

2. The primary theme of all X-Men material – be it the comic books, cartoon series or film franchise – is identity.

Today, we are doing to focus on that second reason by taking a look at the two films most concerned with the responsibility that comes with identity tech: X2: X-Men United and X-Men First Class.

Great Power

The importance of human uniqueness can’t be overstated. The basis of our society is that we, each being different, come together and collaborate. Most of the time this fact is taken for granted. It’s just one of those things that happens on its own.

In identity management, we take advantage of this uniqueness for purposes of security. The perfect singular-ness of your genetic code, as expressed through the measurable features of your exterior, are leveraged in systems that essentially customize your permissions. If your iPhone has Touch ID (and its set up properly) it will only open its virtual doors for you.

X-Men First Class is set during the Cold War, when identity was more than skin deep. Political ideology was an unmeasurable human characteristic that could have one facing persecution if their identity turned out to be more communist leaning than not.

The heroes of the film are symbols of this: mutants hiding in plain sight that terrify a public worried about a nuclear war. In order to identify and collect these mutants, Professor X (who you will remember from the previous post) can use a CIA-made device to amplify his psychic powers and identify them remotely.

It is a passive identification that the professor and his ally use to assemble a team of genetically superior heroes in order to prevent Kevin Bacon from inciting war between the USA and USSR, but it is also an example of why people are terrified of government databases containing their biometrics.

Great Responsibility

In X-Men First Class the remote identification of people based on their physical characteristics works out in favor of the individuals selected. Unfortunately, things aren’t so fun in X2: X-Men United.

The same device is used in the franchise’s second movie to identify a large population based on similar biometric qualifiers (mutants and normal humans at two different times) and commit an act of attempted genocide.

Professor X – the only person able to use the device – is essentially spoofed with powerful psychoactive drugs and used to identify all existing mutants in preparation for a government cleansing. In order to show the full impact of this, a mutant terrorist intervenes, tampers with the device, and has it target everyday regular people.

In both cases, a corrupt individual that has come into power, identified a group of people based on a measurable biological trait and tried to kill them.

The Importance of Trust

I should not have to tell you that there is no such thing as a government-made device that can identify and group people based on shared genetic factors and then eradicate them with psychic rays. Never say never, obviously, but if ever there was a time to rule out a type of technology from existing anytime soon, this would be a good candidate.

That said, technology does exist to measure biometrics of people without their knowledge and databases containing this information are growing in abundance. With allegories like those in X-Men that warn against the irresponsible use of mass identification technology, it is no wonder that when national surveillance initiatives are uncovered people start to get worried about biometrics.

What X-Men also shows, however, is the role of human responsibility. The technology is never to blame, only the people who use it. If there is a message to take away from the X-Men franchise other than the beauty found in diversity, it is to trust in responsible leaders. No technology is inherently good or bad, and this is the root of the fear that plagues the biometrics industry.


Do you have a favorite instance of biometrics in pop culture you would like to see in this blog? Contact Peter B. Counter through the findBIOMETRICS about page and let him know via email.

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