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Thoughtful Biometrics event returns to advance ethical practices

Thoughtful Biometrics event returns to advance ethical practices

Dates for the second Thoughtful Biometrics conference have been announced. The virtual conference will happen across 4 days between July 11 and 20. The event brings a diverse set of stakeholders including privacy professionals, regulators, policy-makers, biometric system vendors, humanitarian groups and the digital identity community together for conversations on emerging issues in the biometrics space. The previous event was held in March 2021.

“Biometrics are more relevant than ever because of the increase in remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” John Callahan, CTO of Veridium and a co-founder of Thoughtful Biometrics explains. “Protection and control (by each person) of their biometric data is paramount to assure that privacy, accessibility, inclusion, and diversity are available to all.”

The event promises in-depth expert discussions around emerging issues from the use of biometric and digital identity technologies, including their ethical uses, tangible risks and threat models for biometric data, and the impact on social and policy implications.

The organizers are drawn from both the biometrics industry and the privacy community. In addition to Callahan and co-founder Asem Othman of Acuant, the event is convened by co-founder Kaliya Young and Secure Justice Chair and Executive Director Brian Hofer, who is also chair of the Oakland Privacy Advisory Commission. Paravision has joined on as a sponsor.

Need a primer on the thinking behind thoughtful biometrics? Callahan and Othman wrote an 8 part series that applies the concept to fingerprint, iris, voice, DNA and facial recognition biometrics. As an ‘unconference,’ no agenda is available until attendees set it at the beginning of each day.

In reviewing last year’s 57 page book of proceedings, a couple sessions grabbed my interest and illustrate the kind of insights to expect from the event.

Biometrics for Different Ages: Examples, Issues, and Future: How do you capture the biometrics of a tiny baby to track their vaccine data? It can be challenging collecting children’s fingerprints, due to their tendency to have dirty hands, clenched fists and curled fingers. Iris biometrics can be good for kids but it can be challenging to capture in infants. But it has been reported that iris as a measure for older adults degrades over time.

Ethical Use of Biometrics (and the need for Biometric Regulation): Regulation is needed in order to enforce ethical use of biometrics. But first you have to define ethical and unethical use. We already know what the private sector thinks about regulation and its impact on innovation. The UK government’s independent Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group (BFEG) released a framework identifying nine key ethical areas that should be considered when designing policy and deploying technology.

The Risk, Trust, Bias Triangle: The Risk, Trust, and Bias session referenced an intriguing paper that defined the complementary relationship between risk, trust and bias in systems that use biometrics to make decisions (like security checkpoints or health monitoring systems). It explores in detail the relationship between risk, trust and bias, as a two-way street that systems must include as a data point in their decision making system. If you design systems that use biometrics as a data point for decision making, set aside some time to dig in. But warning, this is not for the casual reader.

Biometrics continue to have a broad impact across many industries. The Thoughtful Biometrics event takes a unique approach to bring a diverse group of participants to explore the ethical and technical concerns of biometrics. This conference will help you anticipate concerns in applying biometric verification — helping you create more robust and future proofed solutions. The book of proceedings is full of links and references. If you are a researcher or want to understand the impact of biometrics, you’ll find it valuable. More details at their site. The organizers are already planning a third event in September.

About the author

Heather Vescent is a digital identity industry thought leader and futurist with more than a decade of experience delivering strategic intelligence consulting to governments, corporations and entrepreneurs. Vescent’s research has been covered in the New York Times, CNN, American Banker, CNBC, Fox and the Atlantic. She is co-author of the The Secrets of Spies, The Cyber Attack Survival Manual and The Comprehensive Guide to Self Sovereign Identity.

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