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People-tracking has a long history. As Drexel University medical ethicist and historian Sharrona Pearl writes, “A long line of technologies – from the fingerprint to the passport photo to iris scans – (have been) designed to monitor people and determine who has the right to move freely within and across borders and boundaries.”

Face recognition technology is a modern and sophisticated example of these biometric methods that use individuals’ unique physical characteristics to identify them. Pearl explains how it’s used not just as a way to unlock your phone but as a tool of surveillance. Most chilling for me was the realization that unlike its analog predecessors, face recognition technology doesn’t rely on the participation – willing or otherwise – of the person being tracked.

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Maggie Villiger

Senior Science + Technology Editor

Today’s technology advances what passport control has been doing for more than a century. ullstein bild via Getty Images

Face recognition technology follows a long analog history of surveillance and control based on identifying physical features

Sharrona Pearl, Drexel University

Face recognition technology follows earlier biometric surveillance techniques, including fingerprints, passport photos and iris scans. It’s the first that can be done without the subject’s knowledge.

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