Is biometric technology in social protection programmes illegal or arbitrary? An analysis of privacy and data protection (ESS ─ Working Paper No. 59)

Organization(s): ILO
Author: Magdalena Sepúlveda
Year: 2018

Social protection programmes require processing significant data amounts, including often-sensitive information such as household assets, health status and physical or intellectual disabilities. Increasingly, social protection programmes use unique, intimate biometric-technology data such as fingerprints, iris structure and face topologies. Inextricably linked to the individual body, they are more sensitive than other types of personal information.

The present paper seeks to guide social protection practitioners as they respond to critical questions for programme design and implementation, such as: what data should be collected? How do we ensure data will be lawfully processed? What data should or should not be shared, and with whom?
Is biometric technology in social protection programmes illegal or arbitrary? An analysis of privacy and data protection n What data should be retained? For how long and in what manner? Who is responsible for the data a programme processes? What are data subjects’ rights?

The paper focuses on non-contributory social protection programmes, particularly those that use biometric technologies. This focus is particularly relevant when private companies and donor agencies pressure programmes to use biometric technology. Technology use increases the risks beneficiaries as well as society face and underlines the importance of adopting explicit programme regulations to prevent, protect and redress potential breaches.

Related Principles

Respect of Privacy

The implementation of social protection schemes requires collecting many types of information including that identifying beneficiaries and their dependants or carers, earnings, employers, contact details, and more. It is essential that the collection of such information is done without breaching the right to privacy. In this regard, personal information should be kept private and free […]

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