Tuesday, March 17, 2009

(Trans)gender Security Threat?

Well finally the Australian Human Rights Commissions report into the Identity Documentation Issues of Sex And Gender Diverse People is out... and it's mostly very good indeed.

They have sensibly included a call for the Government to remove as many sex/gender markers as possible from peoples documentation which is excellent.

But they still have two points in which they argue that they are neccessary one of which makes sense and the other... the other I am convinced is not just absurd but threatens our national security!

One is that census data on women is important for Australia to fulfill its obligations to UN treaties to measure the degree of sucess in reducing inequality to women. Well that does seem pretty reasonable. Adding other options to the Census would be good too then to allow for more than just M or F. If someone has gone to the trouble of getting a U for Unspecified on their other documentation then surely they should be able to use that in the Census too.

But the other need for sex markers....
You see... they say that having your sex marked on a document is neccessary for Identifying you for Security Purposes!

There are many ways in which a person can be identified as who they claim to be. By measuring characteristics of them as they present themselves with ones previously recorded about them.

DNA is one of the primary standards as few people will share an exact DNA match (of course there are identical twins), there are fingerprints of course, Iris patterns too. Much has been made of Facial Recognition software. Then there are less unique ones that nevertheless help identify someone compared to someone else.

Height, build, eye colour, skin colour, hair colour, handedness, blood type....

Each of these can narrow down which of, say 50 people in a room, is the individual you are looking for.

Many are very mutable... none are immutable!
Blood type has been known to change in a single instance from a bone marrow transplant. Handedness changes to a point (I have personally lost a good deal of my ambidexterity over the years). Hair colour is easy to change and skin colour is for some and changes naturally over time for many. Eye colour changes too. I know 2 people one of whom is my brother whose eyecolour changed naturally. It can also be disguised easilly by contact lenses. Body proportions change as does height over time. Iris paterns shift and alter especially with certain illnesses. Fingerprints don't just change... they can completely dissapear! Few people hear of this but it occurs to from what I've heard about 13% of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome sufferers! Even DNA changes, though not greatly and ussually it's genes switching on or off.. still it does change. Facial structure... well a lot of costly surgery can change that.

As does Measurable Sex, naturally on occassion and with medical assistance (to affirm sex identity).

And yet sex markers on documents is apperntly KEY to identifying someone. Not Blood Type, not DNA and certainly not facial proportions. The entire field of Biometrics which is frequently touted as a vital tool against terrorism etc is less useful than an M or F (or U or X) on a document???


At absolute best it halves all the possible people you could be other than the person you claim you are!

Especially when, except when walking through one of those new 'views-through-clothes' cameras the only way this suppossedly vital characteristic is tested is by visual examination of appearance!

Lets imagine this in an easilly possible hypothetical scenario shall we?

You are an official at an airport checking passports.
First in line is someone called Leslie Smith. Leslie has a genderqueer appearance... it's hard to tell if they are male or female. They have an F on their document. Suspicious? Off you send them to be interrogated, possibly stripped and perhaps physically violated with an internal cavity search. On to the next person in line.

Second in line is Joe Smith. Joe looks like a guy and it says Male on the document. Guess he must really be Joe then. Off he goes onto the plane.

Third is Habib Hussein. Looks Male, it says male. He fits two flagged catagories though, he looks arabic and he's male. That means he's a high-risk of being a terrorist then. Off you send him for interrogation just in case.

Fourth is Maryanne Michaels. It says female, looks female. She is passed through.

Later at the inquiry you discover that Leslie was a military trained security analyst and martial arts expert.. if she'd been on board things might have turned out differently.

Turns out Joe Smith was a known member of a hate-group fleeing before an arrest warrent was issued for murder. But being visibly male and white and having a common name he got waved right through as no risk. But he didn't do anything bad on the plane...

Poor Habib. A christian convert. Is now languishing in extended detention without charge. His lawyers hope that the results of this inquiry will help them get him released.

Maryanne Michaels though.... she was a terrorist. Her name wasn't Maryanne Michaels, the real Maryanne was found buried in an unmarked grave in the woods later. The passport was a fake. But she looked unlike an Arab. In fact she wasn't. She was a member of another non-arabic and non-islamic terrorist organisation (remember them?) and most importantly she looked female and it said F on her document! She didn't appear to belong to either of the high-risk catagories. And how were you to know she wasn't really Maryanne when the key to identifying a person is that M or F on their documents?

And yet she took over a plane and killed hundreds of people.

You see how ridiculously stupid this is? There have been plenty of female terrorists. Enough that any sex-based screening is a threat to national security that can and has been exploited by terrorists.

And sex markers merely cut down the number of people someone can be. And not very well at that! To have a catagory like that as considered vital to identifying someone is beyond rediculous. We could replace it with facial recognition, with swift blood-typing technology, with digital fingerprinting, with Iris scans and rather than having a loss of security we would in fact have an increase in it!

In fact if we combined those four off-the-cuff options together we'd have several measurable biometric identifiers that in combination could vastly improve our security far more than paying someone to look at an F or M a photo and a name and decide using their own highly fallible subjective judgement as to whether they are who they say they are.

And what is the real practical function of sex marker visual screening? What does it really do?

Does it correctly identify people reliably? Heck no! As my example shows the visual apraisal by an official comparing your appearance to an M or F classification has only one practical function! Only one result, regardless of intent. It makes life more difficult for people whose appearance goes against gender stereotypes!

Thats the only conceivable logical result! It can do nothing else! Whether it's facial bone structure, hairstyle, makeup, bodyshape, clothing style... all these contribute to whether an official will decide you 'look like an M or F'. If that does not match the document you suffer.

Not just transsexuals. Not just Crossdressers. Not just Androgynously fashionable Goths and Emos. It's the subjective appraisal of the official you see. It entirely depends on how they personally catagorise M and F!

And that means a crossdressing terrorist that 'passes' will get through this idiotic notion of identification but a law-abiding citizen may not.

And the passport theft nonsense? A man can steal another mans passport and a woman a womans. So why then is the possibility that, GASP, a woman could try and use a stolen mans passport or vice versa something so desperatly serious when its a lot easier to have a woman using a stolen womans passport without attracting attention!

Believe me 'passing' is not easy. To do so as to not attract any attention would be for your average cis errorist far more trouble than recruiting some terrorists of the opposite sex!

This is idiocy of the most farcical level!
I would have thought it were some kind of joke.

And really that is what it is. A dangerous, a deadly, joke.

If sex markers are considered important, nay vital to identifying someone for security purposes then terrorists rejoice! Our security services are clearly utterly incompetant morons!

The only real practical effects of making sex markers an important part of security identification is to discriminate unjustly against sex and gender diversity to ensure compliance with sex and gender stereotypes while making life easier for terrorists!

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