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Role of biometrics in legal identity still evolving, UNDP expert warns against using face

 

Face biometrics are now firmly established as a way for people to unlock their mobile phones, or sign up to a new online account. As a core means of identifying a person, however, former UNDP Policy Advisor and Program Manager for Legal Identity Niall McCann thinks facial recognition may be on its way out.

The first episodes of the new ID16.9 podcast explore how legal identity is established and why. Biometrics are often part of the registration process, linking a person to their ID number, and ID documents may encode the individual’s biometrics, number, or both.

McCann tells Biometric Update’s Frank Hersey in episode two that because facial recognition can be carried out without the consent or knowledge of the subject, unlike fingerprint biometrics, it is likely to be restricted by the UN for ID projects in the coming years.

“You don’t know when a CCTV camera system based on street corners is identifying you via facial recognition means,” McCann explains. “And while that may be appropriate in the state security, state intelligence services counterterrorism field, it seems absolutely inappropriate for general population registration.”

If the UN takes action, it is likely to come from the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

“ECOSOC has the standards around issuance of civil registration identity management systems,” McCann says. “They have not yet issued standards around the use of biometrics or which particular biometrics to use etcetera. But I think it’s fairly likely in the coming years that they will say look facial recognition data is not an appropriate biometric to be using as a core means to identify a person.”

The UN Sustainable Development Goal 16.9, which targets universal legal identity and from which the podcast takes its name, uses birth registration as an indicator. But biometrics, McCann argues, are neither appropriate nor useful for identifying infants.

In the meanwhile biometrics are increasingly used for checks on pensioners, and a large variety of use cases.

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