Nathaniel Finck

Biometric technology is the use of human characteristics to identify individuals and is a form of surveillance. The word biometric is derived from the Greek words bio (which means life) and metric (which means to measure). Common forms of biometrics are fingerprint scanners and face identification. They can be used in workplaces to ensure security of buildings by only allowing access to certain people. Other forms of biometrics include hand geometry, iris recognition, and DNA. Biometrics can also include behavioral patterns such as signatures or voice recognition (Agarwal, n.d.). Biometric peer surveillance has been around for a very long time, as people have always been able to recognize other individuals by facial features, body characteristics, voice and more. Around 500 BC, fingerprints were taken onto clay tablets during Babylonian business transactions, and the Chinese recorded footprints to distinguish children in as early as the 14th century. This has all led to the immense field of biometric technology today (Nadeau, 2012).
Biometric technology is becoming much more popular with the rise of surveillance and artificial intelligence. As cameras become more advanced, the use of biometrics will increase significantly. “Particularly over the last several years, with the advent of facial recognition that can scan hours and hours of photos, video footage, and even live feeds, the real potential of biometric technologies in this field has begun to emerge.” (The Ongoing Ascent, 2018, para. 1). This technology has turned into a threat to our privacy as well as an aid in various areas of surveillance. Perala (2018) suggests that facial recognition can and will be used in the military, as the U.S. Army Research Laboratory has developed a way to convert thermal images to recognizable facial portraits using artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies. Another example of facial recognition is in stores. When a customer walks into a store, cameras can recognize their face and connect it to their profile. From there, employees will be able to know exactly what the customer wants and can personally recommend products that they might be interested in.
The U.S. Government is already in the process of building the world’s largest cache of facial recognition data. Their goal is to recognize any and every face in the country. Current laws do not protect Americans from having webcams scan their facial data (Chayka, 2014). Chayka explains, “The creation of such a database would mean that anyone could be tracked wherever his or her face appears, whether it’s on a city street or in a mall.” We should be critical when discussing biometric surveillance because they pose clear dangers to our privacy.


Agarwal, T. (n.d.) Biometric sensors – Types and its working. Elprocus: Electronics, Projects, Focus. Retrieved from https://www.elprocus.com/different-types-biometric-sensors/

Chayka, K. (2014) Biometric surveillance means someone is always watching. Newsweek Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.newsweek.com/2014/04/25/biometric-surveillance-means-someone-always-watching-248161.html

Perala, A. (2018). Army researchers’ algorithm tech converts thermal images to conventional portraits. Find Biometrics: Global Identity Management. Retrieved from https://findbiometrics.com/army-researchers-algorithm-tech-thermal-images-conventional-portraits-504185/

The ongoing ascent of biometric surveillance. (2018). Find Biometrics: Global Identity Management. Retrieved from https://findbiometrics.com/brief-biometric-surveillance-504230/

Nadeau, L. K. (2012) Tracing the history of biometrics. Government Technology. Retrieved from



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Key Concepts in Surveillance Studies Copyright © 2019 by Nathaniel Finck is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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