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Report highlights potential impact of biometric technology on trust and democracy

Report highlights potential impact of biometric technology on trust and democracy

The political and economic significance of biometrics are being changed by the potential for sharing biometric data between web servers and the combination of biometric and other data for public and commercial service delivery, according to a new report from the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). While ethical concerns about function creep, algorithmic accuracy and accountability, and privacy at the individual level have previously been raised, a complementary focus on the social and political ramifications is also necessary, according to PRIO researchers.

In “Societal Ethics and Biometric Technologies”, report authors Nina Boy, Elida K.U. Jacobsen, and Kristofer Lidén argue that sound legal cases and advanced privacy and data protection techniques, such as those that build in Privacy by Design, are not enough.

“In effect, the systems come across as legal and ‘ethical’ without resolving the broader societal dimensions that exceed an individual centric focus on the ethics of biometrics,” the report authors write. “Legal arguments can therefore not resolve the issue alone. Ethical considerations of the values and principles underpinning the law are needed, both for the application and the adjustment of current regulations. Ultimately, the introduction of new technologies of security is a political question, demanding informed political debate.”

Political debate is increasingly happening, with recent developments including the introduction of regulations to specifically limit facial biometrics technology introduced in U.S. Congress. To what extent such debate is informed, and how widespread it will be, remain to be seen.

The 50-page report also suggests that the EU’s plans for a smart border system which includes extensive sharing of biometric information may not be compatible with the data privacy protections of Europe’s new General Data Privacy Rule (GDPR).

At its conclusion, the report asks how biometrics will affect social bonds of trust, belonging, and mutual care, and how biometric databases will affect divisions of power between citizens and the state. The report also poses questions about how government objectives and procedures will be changed, how they will affect democratic rules, how the relations between citizens, the state, and corporations may change. A lengthy list for further reading is also provided.

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