IBIA explores use of biometrics in response to US government request

The International Biometrics and Identity Association (IBIA) presented the industry perspective on a response to the White House Request for Information (RFI). The OSTP contrasts with some civil society groups, but much less so with industry experts.

The 10-page response provides an overview of specific applications of biometric technologies in the public and private sectors.

The IBIA reviews the history of the development of biometrics, up to the rapid improvement in the efficiency of the technology with deep neural networks and machine learning approaches. The response to the second topic describes the status of the biometric algorithm and full system testing as performed by the US National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST) and DHS S&T.

A section on security considerations notes the use of biometric technology to defend against physical and cyber threats, and references the 98% accuracy rate claimed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection for its biometric facial matching at border crossings.

Considering the potential harms of biometric technology, the IBIA points out that it is “not aware of the apparent or potential harms of biometric technology per se”, and therefore it is a misuse of technology that damage could occur.

“To counter this, the IBIA has developed ethical principles and best practices,” which the group details in its Topic 6 sections.

The IBIA does not support any use of biometrics that removes rights, nor the use of real-time biometrics for surveillance without a court order. The group also notes that applications of biometrics by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration are not surveillance.

The industry group also argues that state restrictions such as Illinois’ BIPA “are inappropriate and should be preempted by federal law.”

The benefits of using biometric technology have only been magnified by the pandemic, according to the IBIA, especially for travel. The forensic and cybersecurity benefits of biometrics are also reviewed.

The IBIA describes its own stakeholder engagement efforts and makes several references to the group’s “Privacy Policy Principles”.

The document also acknowledges the lack of published best practices in the field, although there are some generally accepted principles in the industry, such as limited scope pilots, clear and transparent communication, and alternatives for people who want withdraw.

The answer to topic 6f, on combinations of biometrics with other surveillance technologies, notes that the question implies that biometrics are surveillance technologies, “and they are not”, because surveillance is defined by persistent observation. This section again discusses the distinction between real-time facial recognition deployments and forensics.

The document notes the differing status of different biometric modalities in court, and that it will likely evolve with technology.

Finally, public transparency measures appropriate to public and private sector biometric deployments are outlined by the IBIA.

The RFI was published in October and comments closed in January.

Article topics

best practices | biometrics | cybersecurity | ethics | facial recognition | forensic medicine | ibia | confidentiality | real-time biometrics | monitoring

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