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IUSSP launches initiative to address ethics in biometric population registration

IUSSP launches initiative to address ethics in biometric population registration

The International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) has announced an initiative to establish interdisciplinary dialogues and policy research to consider human rights in the population register systems field as more incorporate biometric identification.

Digital ID systems like India’s Aadhaar, the GhanaCard, and South Africa’s Home Affairs National Identification System each leverage biometrics in their digital registration systems. The systems are often shaped by each nation’s individual capacities and weaknesses, but have already altered the foundation for economic growth in various countries, despite setbacks in implementation.

Stakeholders are concerned that implementing digital CRVS systems can create new challenges for obtaining accurate population data – a problem that should ideally be minimized by the digitalization of such systems.

Vulnerable subpopulations could potentially be excluded from the systems, while young scholars in the global South may be excluded from discourse that addresses issues in biometric registration systems. A major risk of the implementation of such systems is the destruction of the right to privacy.

The IUSSP is a global organization made up mostly of academic and government bodies concerned with demography and the scientific study of population. It is partnering with the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research in South Africa, the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights in Uganda, and the USC Institute on Inequalities on Global Health in the U.S. to launch a year-long research collaboration and fellowship program. The program is intended to facilitate interdisciplinary research from young scholars and practitioners on human rights considerations to inform policy on population register systems.

The collaboration would help position institutions in the global North to support the development of research and policy guidance from early career researchers in the global South. The initiative would nurture the development of the next generation of scholars through mentorship and immersion, networking, and visibility, also giving them the opportunity to collaborate with all partner organizations and other fellows in the program.

The intention of the program is to include new perspectives into discourse to challenge current frameworks for digitizing registration systems. Population scientists have been able to document instances where population data systems of the past were leveraged in instances of mass human rights abuses. There is less discourse on contemporary national identity systems that rely on biometrics and digitally link to other registries, and the initiative seeks to facilitate this discourse.

The initiative will support research projects of three IUSSP Population, Ethics and Human Rights Fellows. It will produce interdisciplinary materials that inform stakeholders on ethics and human rights opportunities and challenges that the use of biometrics in registry systems creates.

Lastly, the initiative will share essays and podcasts that highlight new research and debates from population researchers.

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