Mr Interdiction, the 1980s War on Drugs, and Building Future Infrastructure for Facial Recognition Technologies
CCa 2021 Graduate Proceedings


face recognition
media infrastructure
War on Drugs
Computer vision

How to Cite

Tucker, A. (2022). Mr Interdiction, the 1980s War on Drugs, and Building Future Infrastructure for Facial Recognition Technologies. Stream: Interdisciplinary Journal of Communication, 13(1). Retrieved from


By the late-1980s, human-centric facial recognition technologies (FRTs) were fast becoming obsolete; the increase in global mobility of goods and populations put increasingly greater stress on human-centric identification systems. The accompanying biopolitics of flow and control, grounded in securitization, demanded monitoring of continuous movement and the idea of stopping each face for sustained human observation quickly grew outmoded.
This paper examines the shift from human-centric FRTs to automated FRTs, characterized by the establishment of the Facial Recognition Technology (FERET) database (1993-96) and the later Face Recognition Vender Tests (2000-present). This trajectory is defined by the aforementioned shift from technologies rooted in disciplinary biopolitics to those based in flow and control, that is paralleled by the turn from Cold War ideological battles towards the War on Drugs as the central truth regime justifying the establishments of improvement of FRTs into the turn of the millennium.
Sponsored by the American Counter Drug Technology Program, in partnership with DARPA, construction of the FERET began in 1993. Not only was this database essential to the later Face Recognition Vendor Tests (FRVTs), but it also provided incredibly influential and expansive documentation and methodologies for the creation and deployment of future facial recognition technologies (FRT). Such infrastructure remains deeply relevant in a post-9/11 world, in particular during the ongoing crisis of the global Covid-19 pandemic and the near future of climate catastrophe and mass migration.

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Copyright (c) 2022 Aaron Tucker