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Our Biometric Future

Our Biometric Future: Facial Recognition Technology and the Culture of Surveillance

Kelly A. Gates
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 274
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  • Book Info
    Our Biometric Future
    Book Description:

    Since the 1960s, a significant effort has been underway to program computers to see the human face to develop automated systems for identifying faces and distinguishing them from one another--commonly known as Facial Recognition Technology. While computer scientists are developing FRT in order to design more intelligent and interactive machines, businesses and states agencies view the technology as uniquely suited for smart surveillance - systems that automate the labor of monitoring in order to increase their efficacy and spread their reach.Tracking this technological pursuit, Our Biometric Future identifies FRT as a prime example of the failed technocratic approach to governance, where new technologies are pursued as shortsighted solutions to complex social problems. Culling news stories, press releases, policy statements, PR kits and other materials, Kelly Gates provides evidence that, instead of providing more security for more people, the pursuit of FRT is being driven by the priorities of corporations, law enforcement and state security agencies, all convinced of the technology's necessity and unhindered by its complicated and potentially destructive social consequences. By focusing on the politics of developing and deploying these technologies, Our Biometric Future argues not for the inevitability of a particular technological future, but for its profound contingency and contestability.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3303-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. x-xi)
  5. [Illustration]
    (pp. xii-xii)
  6. Introduction: Experimenting with the Face
    (pp. 1-24)

    The September 11 terrorist attacks generated an enormous flood of imagery, and among the deluge was a grainy shot of two of the alleged attackers taken early that morning at a security checkpoint in the Portland, Maine, airport. The recorded video image, which appears to show Mohammad Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari passing through airport security, is a familiar part of 9/11 iconography. Although difficult to discern the men’s faces in the image, it is virtually impossible to reference it without also invoking the claim that facial recognition technology could have identified the men as wanted terrorist suspects. Already existing commercially...

  7. 1 Facial Recognition Technology from the Lab to the Marketplace
    (pp. 25-62)

    At the 1970s World’s Fair in Osaka, Japan, the Nippon Electric Company (NEC) staged an attraction called “Computer Physiognomy.” Visitors to the exhibit would sit in front of a television camera to have their pictures taken and then fed into a computer where a simple program would extract lines from the images and locate several feature points on their faces. In one last step, the program would classify the faces into one of seven categories, each corresponding to a famous person. As the computer scientist Takeo Kanade wrote in his doctoral dissertation, “the program was not very reliable,” but “the...

  8. 2 Police Power and the Smart CCTV Experiment
    (pp. 63-96)

    In her classic essay “Tales from the Cutting Room Floor” published inHarper’s, Debra Seagal recounts five and a half months in 1992 that she spent working as a “story analyst” for the television showAmerican Detective. Referred to in-house as a “logger,” Seagal’s job involved sitting in front of a “computer/VCR/print monitor/TV screen/headphone console,” scrutinizing hours of raw video footage taken for the show, and creating a running log of all the visual and auditory elements that could be used to “create” a story.¹ Laboring at this monotonous job of video image processing, Seagal quickly descends into the abysmal...

  9. 3 Finding the Face of Terror in Data
    (pp. 97-124)

    In his keynote address at the September 2002 Biometrics Consortium Conference, Dr. Robert L. Popp, then deputy director of DARPA’s newly formed Information Awareness Office, began by showing a promotional video for the “Total Information Awareness” (TIA) program. TIA would later spark public controversy and bipartisan political opposition, but the press had not yet taken notice of it, and the conference audience of industry and government officials seemed interested and receptive. The video, outlining the various research and development projects combined to form TIA, opened with a montage of images and sounds signifying the Cold War, the fall of the...

  10. 4 Inventing the Security-Conscious, Tech-Savvy Citizen
    (pp. 125-150)

    In early 2008, Lenovo, the company that acquired IBM’s PC division, released a new line of laptops equipped with VeriFace facial recognition software. Instead of using a password to log in to their computers, users of these laptops have their pictures taken and verified against previously enrolled facial images. The software supports multiple user accounts and keeps a log of photos of everyone who attempts to access the computer. Also in 2008, a German software company called Betaface introduced an online facial recognition search engine, called MyFaceID, that allows users to upload photos of people’s faces and match them against...

  11. 5 Automated Facial Expression Analysis and the Mobilization of Affect
    (pp. 151-190)

    As he recalls it, Joseph Weizenbaum was moved to write his bookComputer Power and Human Reasonas a result of the public reaction to his experimental language analysis program, named ELIZA, that he developed at MIT in the mid-1960s.¹ ELIZA’s incarnation as DOCTOR, a parody version of a psychotherapist asking inane reflexive questions, was wildly misinterpreted as an intelligent system, according to Weizenbaum. Much to his astonishment, some practicing psychiatrists actually thought that the DOCTOR program could be developed into a truly automated form of psychotherapy, “a therapeutic tool which can be made widely available to mental hospitals and...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 191-200)

    I began this book with reference to a surveillance camera image that circulated in the media after September 11, 2001, allegedly depicting two of the hijackers passing through airport security that morning. The faces of the men in the video frame were barely visible, and that, combined with its sheer banality, may explain why it was such a chilling image.¹ Its low, grainy quality lent it an air of credibility as an authentic representation of the real, but the tiny visual blurs of the men’s faces made them appear not just unidentifiable but indecipherable. The image seemed to provide only...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 201-240)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-252)
  15. Index
    (pp. 253-262)
  16. About the Author
    (pp. 263-263)