Web We Want’s new newsletter highlights one important topic every week and tells you what you need to know in 3 minutes or less.
What’s Going On?
Identification by fingerprint, face or iris scanning is considered secure but it really depends on how this “biometric” data is collected and stored — and who has access to it — whether governments, corporations or hackers. Fingerprinting is a 100 year old practice, but now, as it is matched with global communications networks, the risks are entirely new.
Any database can have errors, but with biometrics there is an additional risk of misuse and misidentification — and being up against a system that is considered infallible. Correcting errors can be difficult. Sometimes, innocent people are swept up in systems for tracking criminals, as happens to thousands on the U.S. government terrorist watchlists.
Who’s Doing Something?
Few people have a clue what happens to their data once they hand it over. Privacy groups, locally and internationally, are working to rein in companies and governments so there are clear rules about how data is shared across borders and how individuals should give consent.
Tensions are surfacing. One of the largest biometric projects in the world, India’s “Aadhar” ID system, has been on trial recently in the Indian supreme court (read this by privacy petitioner, Shyam Divan) with the government openly questioning whether citizens have a constitutional right to privacy.
Refugees are often coerced by police into registering their fingerprints in the European Union’s Eurodac database, a practice the German Institute for Human Rights finds questionable, in part because it carries the assumption that asylum-seekers are automatically suspects even when there is zero evidence of any crime.
What Should I Do?