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Biometrics Institute launches Ethical Principles for Biometrics to guide responsible industry behavior

Biometrics Institute launches Ethical Principles for Biometrics to guide responsible industry behavior

The Biometrics Institute has launched a set of Ethical Principles for Biometrics at its annual U.S. conference in Washington, D.C. to address the gaps left by lagging legislation and regulation.

Chief Executive Isabelle Moeller asked an audience of 70 stakeholders from the biometrics community “Just because we can, should we?” Key stakeholders from the biometrics industry, including representatives of Microsoft, the Federal Trade Commission, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Center for Democracy have convened at the Mary Gates Learning Center in Washington to discuss issues in identity, privacy, federal and state biometric legislation and face recognition technology in the context of responsible use.

The need for the institute to play the role of compiling ethical principles for the use of biometrics by members and the wider community was established by a near-unanimous show of hands at the Biometrics Institute’s annual joint group meeting in October. The Institute’s Privacy Expert Group, privacy commissioners, biometrics experts, and government employees came together to collaborate on these principles.

The group identified seven principles to enable anyone working in the biometrics industry to demonstrate a commitment to addressing the ethical issues raised by new technology, and biometrics in particular. The seven principles are: ethical behavior, meaning to avoid actions which harm people and the environment beyond legal requirements; ownership of the biometric and respect for individuals’ personal data, including recognition of partial ownership of biometric data by individuals; serving humans, which entails accounting for public good, community safety and net benefit to individuals; justice and accountability, which means accepting principles of openness, independent oversight, accountability, and the right of appeal and appropriate redress; promoting privacy-enhancing technology; recognizing dignity of individuals and families; and equality, which entails preventing discrimination or systemic bias.

“We recognized very early that the law cannot hope to protect human rights and privacy across more than 190 countries,” explains Terry Aulich, head of the Biometrics Institute’s Privacy Experts Group and a former senator and state government minister in Australia. “We therefore set out to create a concise, straightforward statement to guide our members in how they should behave. Even if some laws do not prevent commercial or governmental bad behavior, our Ethical Principles ask our members to operate at a higher level of accountability.”

The Biometrics Institute has also been working with the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT), the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Center (UNCCT) and the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (UNCTED) to brief states and agencies on the practical application of the “Compendium of Recommended Practices for the Responsible Use and Sharing of Biometrics in Counter-Terrorism,” which the Institute compiled along with the UN.

“Technology is moving so fast that laws and regulations are struggling to keep up,” Moeller points out. “Without clear international legislation, businesses in the biometrics world are often faced with the dilemma, ‘Just because we can, should we?’ Our role is to guide our members in the responsible and ethical use of these rapidly developing technologies so they benefit, not disadvantage humans. We hope the whole biometrics community will follow the principles and promote them.”

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