UNICEF releases guidelines for use of biometric technology on children

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UNICEF has released two documents outlining guidelines for the secure, efficient, and transparent use of children’s biometrics. While biometric technology opens up a number of opportunities to improve programs for children, there are also certain risks, the organization says, not only related to data protection and privacy, but liabilities associated with the use of the technology on children.

UNICEF argues that biometric technology such as facial recognition was initially designed for use on adults, which could make it prone to biometric recognition errors that may ultimately have a negative impact on vulnerable communities.

The first guidebook is titled Faces, Fingerprints and Feet: Guidance on assessing the value of including biometric technologies in UNICEF-supported programs. The document lays out ten guidelines and questions for organizations to consider before using biometrics on children to ensure appropriate management strategies.

The second guidebook is called Biometrics and Children: A literature review of current technologies, opportunities, and risks – prepared by UNICEF and the World Bank. The paper looks deeper into the use of biometric technologies on children aged 18 and under, and suggests performance metrics for key biometric traits such as facial recognition, fingerprints, iris scans, foot and palm prints. According to UNICEF research, the use of these technologies on children younger than 5 years old requires further extensive research, as there is a “critical lack of verifiable performance data on most of the technologies currently in use with children (particularly for longitudinal use over extended periods).”

Governments have introduced policies for collecting children’s biometrics for border controls this year, somewhat controversially, including at U.S. and EU borders.

Infant biometrics was in the spotlight this summer at ID4Africa 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa, where moderator Dr. Anil Jain pointed out the need for infant biometrics, but also covered the challenges raised by the technology in this category.

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