Ben Parker at The New Humanitarian: “Thousands of children between the ages of one and five are due to be fingerprinted in Bangladesh and Tanzania in the largest biometric scheme of its kind ever attempted, the Geneva-based vaccine agency, Gavi, announced recently.
Although the scheme includes data protection safeguards – and its sponsors are cautious not to promise immediate benefits – it is emerging during a widening debate on data protection, technology ethics, and the risks and benefits of biometric ID in development and humanitarian aid.
Gavi, a global vaccine provider, is teaming up with Japanese and British partners in the venture. It is the first time such a trial has been done on this scale, according to Gavi spokesperson James Fulker.
Being able to track a child’s attendance at vaccination centres, and replace “very unreliable” paper-based records, can help target the 20 million children who are estimated to miss key vaccinations, most in poor or remote communities, Fulker said.
Up to 20,000 children will have their fingerprints taken and linked to their records in existing health projects. That collection effort will be managed by Simprints, a UK-based not-for-profit enterprise specialising in biometric technology in international development, according to Christine Kim, the company’s head of strategic partnerships….
Ethics and legal safeguards
Kim said Simprints would apply data protection standards equivalent to the EU’s General Directive on Privacy Regulation (GDPR), even if national legislation did not demand it. Families could opt out without any penalties, and informed consent would apply to any data gathering. She added that the fieldwork would be approved by national governments, and oversight would also come from institutional review boards at universities in the two countries.
Fulker said Gavi had also commissioned a third-party review to verify Simprints’ data protection and security methods.
For critics of biometrics use in humanitarian settings, however, any such plan raises red flags….
Data protection analysts have long been arguing that gathering digital ID and biometric data carries particular risks for vulnerable groups who face conflict or oppression: their data could be shared or leaked to hostile parties who could use it to target them.
And during a panel discussion on “Digital Do No Harm” held last year in Berlin, humanitarian professionals and data experts discussed a range of threats and unintended consequences of new technologies, noting that they are as yet hard to predict….(More)”.