Biometrics and Human Rights

Biometric technology is growing at an incredible rate.  The use of biometric technology, such as electronic iris scans, has the potential to increase public safety by providing better control to sensitive areas like nuclear power plants.  Even retail companies are getting in on the trend.

But there is also grave risk to human rights.  J. Edgar Hoover dreamed of creating files on every political dissident in the country.  F.B.I. agents photographed anti-war rallies, infiltrated civil rights groups, and even wiretapped Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hoover may be gone, but his legacy remains.  Law enforcement agencies still collect information about critics of American policies under the banner of national security.  So far, this effort has had limited success.  Taking a protester’s picture at a rally doesn’t usually tell someone the identity of that individual.

But if employers or government agencies were to adopt facial recognition (which is only a matter of time), everything would change.  The F.B.I. and C.I.A. would now know the identity of every political dissident in America.  Anonymous political protest would be gone forever.  Furthermore, the F.B.I. recently started a $1 billion dollar project to develop this technique and Tampa Bay Police Department used this technology during the super bowl.

Even worse, the government could use biometrics to track those it deems suspicious virtually 24 hours a day.  If you have access to a secure setting the requires you to verify your identity via fingerprint, iris or face, a record of your actions is made every time.  As biometrics spreads, and our ability to network computers increases, it could be used to make a record of virtually everywhere you go. The airline industry is already on board.

These nightmares do not have to occur.  The National Workrights Institute recently led a blue ribbon taskforce of privacy experts, biometric scientists, unions, employers, and government officials that created guidelines allowing the use of biometrics for greater security where it is needed without undermining human rights.

One of the core principles is that biometric information should not be stored in data bases.  Instead of comparing your iris to a biometric image in a data base, the system could compare your iris to a biometric imprint on a card.  Without data bases, the risk of identity theft is greatly reduced.

Another core principle is that biometric checkpoints should not create records.  In most cases, all that is needed is the assurance that everyone who entered a secure area was authorized to do so.  There is no need to keep records that can compromise privacy.

NWI has begun meeting with Congress and other decision makers to educate them about the dangers of biometrics and convince them to follow the guidelines.  Check out the complete guidelines below.

On April 14th, 2011, posted in: Blog by

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