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Report weights transparency and privacy of biometrics for Yemen humanitarian aid

Special data storage measures taken

WFP biometric aid delivery system still not launched in Yemen

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is in a critical state, and further deteriorating says PRIO in a new Policy Brief. The United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) is a key player in the humanitarian field, leveraging digital technologies and biometrics to deliver more efficient, cost effective aid strategies; particularly in Yemen where more than 24 million people are in need of assistance.

In February, 2020, the aid operation was scaled-down due to risks associated with transportation of supplies.

Delivery of aid in emergency situations is increasingly answered with the use of biometrics and identity solutions, such as iris or fingerprint scans for food collection, which improves traceability in volatile environments, but also sparks concerns about the possibility of consent.

The WFP’s digital assistance platform, SCOPE is used to register and supply over 50 million beneficiaries worldwide. While over 1 million Yemenis have been registered by WFP, the organization has clashed with Houthi authorities (a political, armed movement who took control of state institutions in 2014) who argue that WFP is violating national laws by holding control over storage and use of biometric data. WFP maintains that biometric registration is necessary to prevent fraud and ensure effective aid distribution, says PRIO.

Over 16 million Yemenis are currently facing severe levels of food insecurity and over 3.5 million are in need of treatment for acute malnutrition, making the need for solutions increasingly urgent.

In consequence to Houthi resistance to biometric registration in the country, registration devices will not be connected to the internet and biometric data will be stored by WFP on a secure joint server room in Yemen.

Integrated Biometrics published a case study detailing the use of the company’s Five-O ten-print biometric scanner to support food aid delivery in Yemen last year.

Though WFP’s work in Yemen saves lives, PRIO mentions reports of beneficiaries who are concerned or fearful about the usage and lack of oversight over personal data. Critics of biometric systems in the humanitarian context suggest that informed consent over providing personal data is not possible when acceptance of biometric registration is a prerequisite for access to life-saving food and medical treatment.

In this context, biometrics usage highlights fundamental global disparities, yet is the result of humanitarian actors under pressure to document aid in an efficient way.

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