When bodies become data: Biometric technologies and free expression

Biometric technologies are highly intrusive, violate people’s privacy, fail to adequately protect personal data, and prevent people from enjoying their right to freedom of expression.

In its latest policy brief, ARTICLE 19 raises concerns about the rapid and increased use of biometric technologies by public authorities and the private sector.

States and private actors are increasingly using biometric technologies to analyse the way people act, look, and express themselves in public and private spheres. Their use ranges from border patrol to unlocking a smartphone, but one thing is clear: their use is being normalised.  

Worryingly, individuals’ human rights have almost been forgotten in the roll out of these technologies, when they should be at the heart of how biometric technologies are developed and used.  

The misuse and abuse of biometric technologies results in profiling and categorising people based on age, gender, and skin colour. In other words, biometric technologies can be used in fundamentally discriminatory ways that continue to disadvantage those who have been historically excluded. 

Similarly, they can be used to surveill what people are doing, with whom, how they feel, and even how they are likely to behave in the future. These are deeply invasive practices.

As a result, the use of these technologies violate the public’s rights to privacy and data protection, human dignity, non-discrimination, self-determination and the right to access an effective remedy.

ARTICLE 19 is therefore calling for a moratorium on the development and deployment of all biometric technologies until vital human rights safeguards are in place

We also call for a complete ban on biometric mass surveillance in public spaces, a total ban on emotion recognition technologies, and greater human rights protections in the design, development and use of biometric technologies.

Ban the deployment of all biometric technologies until vital human rights safeguards are in place.

Biometric technology: Questions and Answers

Recommendations

Until clear safeguards are in place there should be a moratorium on the development and deployment of biometric technologies by both States and private actors.

We are calling for:

Rather than placing technology at the service of human beings or designing solutions that solve existing problems, the push to develop tools and products for their own sake is fundamentally flawed. If we’re not people centered, we fail to reflect sufficiently on the risks these technologies pose to people or the harm they can cause.

Ban the deployment of all biometric technologies until vital human rights safeguards are in place.