Biometric technologies: Freedom of expression must be protected

Biometric technologies: Freedom of expression must be protected - Digital

Today ARTICLE 19 published its new policy on the impacts of the development and deployment of biometric technologies on freedom of expression and other human rights. ARTICLE 19 is calling for a moratorium on the development and deployment of all biometric technologies until human rights are sufficiently safeguarded and for putting human rights protection at the heart of any design, development or deployment process of biometric technologies.

Biometric technologies are used to gather and analyse biometric data relating to physical or behavioural characteristics of a person, such as DNA or fingerprints. In other words, biometric technologies collect personal data that belongs to the unique identification of a person.

In the policy, ARTICLE 19 analyses the effects biometric technologies have on human rights due to their widescale deployment without proper oversight and regulation. We believe that States and private companies have their role to play in ensuring that these technologies respect international human rights standards. ARTICLE 19 has previously published a report on the impacts of emotion recognition technologies on human rights where we address the specific issues raised by those technologies.

Our report shows how biometric mass surveillance has a chilling effect on freedom of expression. Mass surveillance severely impacts the right to remain anonymous in public spaces. Studies have shown that if individuals believe they are being watched, they alter their behaviour.

Despite biometric technology being present in our every day lives, it is more often than not deployed without sufficient and updated legal framework that regulates their use. Indeed, the lack of regulation may lead to dual use of these technologies, meaning the use of the technology goes far beyond the initial intended scope. This is combined with a total lack of transparency. Public-private partnerships and their contracts are often not disclosed. This has a severe impact of the public’s right to know. Journalists and civil society cannot properly scrutinise the use of these technologies, making it very difficult for them to hold governments and private companies to account for human rights violations.

In order to protect human rights in the use of biometric technologies, ARTICLE 19 makes the following recommendations:

  • States should ban biometric mass surveillance
  • States should ban the design, development and use of emotion recognition technologies
  • Public and private actors who design, develop and use biometric technologies should respect the principles of legitimacy, proportionality and necessity
  • States should set an adequate legislative framework for the design, development and use of biometric technologies
  • Government authorities must ensure that the design, development and use of biometric technologies are subject to transparency and open and public debate
  • Transparency requirements for the sector should be imposed and thoroughly implemented by both public and private sectors
  • States should guarantee accountability and access to remedies for human rights violations arising from biometric technologies
  • The private sector should design, develop and deploy biometric systems in accordance with human rights standards.

Read our policy