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UK Government Digital Service reviews landscape for agency use of biometrics and emerging digital tech


The UK Government Digital Service (GDS) unit has published a policy paper reviewing the government’s efforts to adopt emerging digital technologies, including automatic face, voice, fingerprint, and iris biometrics.

The “Technology innovation in government survey” is meant to improve the government’ understanding of what specific technologies agencies are interested in, how they are being used to meet specific use cases, how government organizations structure tests of new technology, what network, communities, and hubs support innovation in government, and what innovation capabilities the government has.

The review identifies 14 different areas of emerging technology being explored by different UK government bodies in 5 categories: automation, identification and identity, human computer interaction, Internet of Things (IoT), and mobility. The technologies of interest in the identification and identity category are distributed ledger technology and biometrics, with the latter being the only one of the 14 areas for which organizations using or interested in the technology are not specified. This, along with the applicability of biometrics to the other innovation categories, suggests that the technology is considered of interest across government organizations.

Recommendations for the GDS unit include partnering with the Home Office to set up a centre of excellence for biometrics, among several such centers.

Artificial intelligence is a topic of particular focus in the paper, following on the commitments set out in the Artificial Intelligence Sector Deal, which was published in March, and a commitment made in the 2017 Budget to increase spending on research and development from 1.7 percent to 2.4 percent of GDP by 2027.

The review also explores barriers to exploring technological innovation, innovation networks and managing risks associated with innovation.

The Home Office Biometrics Programme recently issued a tender for developing capabilities to test the performance of biometric systems for several modalities, including DNA, shortly after the long-awaited publication of its Biometrics Strategy, which has been criticized for vagueness and a lack of oversight recommendations.

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