The border is everywhere: The history and future of biometric security

The birth of biometric security

We are currently witnessing a rapid rise in biometric security. Borders are apparently becoming ‘smart’; passports are becoming e-passports, and when you set out on your travels your data double is already at your destination. Access to airports and even continents will increasingly be determined not by your national citizenship but by the security of your identity. Biometric security has received little anthropological attention despite historical associations with the discipline. Here I wish to outline a brief genealogy of biometric security in order to argue that, beyond the apparent newness of the technology, key biometric technologies owe their origins to 19th-entury deployments and then as now they may be understood as a form of bio-governmentality in which the security of identity opens possibilities for population control.

Maguire, Mark (2009) The birth of biometric security. Anthropology Today, 25 (2). pp. 9-14. ISSN 0268-540X


Full paper here, bbc radio 4 interview here


Identity dominance: The U.S Military’s Biometric War in Afghanistan

For years the U.S. military has been waging a biometric war in Afghanistan, working to unravel the insurgent networks operating throughout the country by collecting the personal identifiers of large portions of the population.  A restricted U.S. Army guide on the use of biometrics in Afghanistan obtained by Public Intelligence provides an inside look at this ongoing battle to identify the Afghan people.


Article here


Face recognition in retail, transport & buildings


When a person in your database steps into one of your stores, you are sent an email, text, or SMS alert that includes their picture and all biographical information of the known individual so you can take immediate and appropriate action.

  • Receive descriptive alerts when pre-identified shoplifters walk through any door at any store.
  • Get alerts when known litigious individuals enter any of your locations.
  • Build a database of good customers, recognize them when they come through the door, and make them feel more welcome.
  • Enhance treatment of frequent travelers. Build a database of frequent travelers to ensure they are properly recognized and greeted.


  • Spot parties from watch lists and alert authorities worldwide. Catch individuals on local, national and international watch lists.
  • Control employee access. Receive alerts instantly when employees enter areas of your facility for which they are not authorized.
  • Enhance treatment of frequent travelers. Build a database of frequent travelers to ensure they are properly recognized and greeted.


  • Receive descriptive alerts when anyone walks into your building who is not wanted there.
  • Flag individuals who have caused problems in the past.
  • Be alerted when known litigious individuals enter any of your properties.
  • Cooperate with law enforcement. Load their criminal data into your  database so you can notify them if one enters your building.
  • Monitor the movement of people in your facility to ensure that no one is in an area in which they are not authorized to be.


Source here