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Humanitarian Future – Biometric Data

This week, we are dedicating our news to the humanitarian future. We already discussed the use of data for good, robots, artificial intelligence, mobile, drones, and blockchain. But what are some other tech trends in the humanitarian world? Biometric data has quickly gained popularity among aid workers. But its application is not without challenges. Let’s take a look at the use of biometric data for humanitarian purposes.

What is biometric data?

If you have a newer smartphone or laptop, you are probably already using biometric data in your everyday life. Biometrics generally refers to digital fingerprints, face prints, and iris scans. So, the face recognition software on your phone uses your biometric data to recognize you.

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How can humanitarians use biometric data?

Sounds cool, but how does that apply to the humanitarian field? There are many surprising ways in which biometric data can support aid workers. One of the principal areas is in work with refugees and refugee camps. For example, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), along with partners, has been using biometric data for identification in refugee camps.

The International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) is also utilizing biometric data for aid. Their Trace the Face program helps to reunite families post-conflict. By using social media and biometric data, they can locate lost relatives. Some date back as far as the Second World War.

Another way biometric data can serve the humanitarian field is through fraud prevention. It improves accuracy and integrity in humanitarian interventions, making it harder to commit any honest or deliberate mistakes.

Finally, biometrics can also help with identification and speed of delivering aid. More than 2 million people in the world do not have government documents. By using biometric data, they can still receive aid without formal identity registration. Also, biometric data saves the time of need to go through paper documents during aid delivery.

Challenges of using biometric data for humanitarian response

As always, there are a few challenges when it comes to the use of biometrics for humanitarian aid. And as with other technologies, the ethical use of biometric data is in question. Security, fraud, and power are three ethical issues around biometric data.

First of all, it is difficult to ensure the secure use of biometric data. Organizations need to have rigorous data protection standards when managing biometrics. Sometimes, it is simply unaffordable for humanitarian organizations.

Secondly, biometric data are used for many other purposes, which are not humanitarian. It can be sold for profit or even used by intelligence agencies. This puts beneficiaries’ privacy into question.

Thirdly, the collection of biometric data poses some questions around power. Since organizations often use biometrics in refugee and other distribution situations, data collection consent may be assumed. Also, participants don’t always entirely understand what data collection consent means. In the long-run, this could mean the use of private data without informed consent.

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Biometric data in humanitarian projects

ID2020 Alliance

Everyone has the right to personal identity and a legal identity. However, millions of people around the world do not have legal identification. The ID2020 Alliance is working to change that.

The alliance includes UN agencies, NGOs, governments, and enterprises. Together, they work on new technologies, including biometrics, to improve and implement policies and standards around digital identity.

IOM in Juba

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) have used biometric registration in South Sudan. The database includes over 700,000 people. This, to avoid duplication of assistance and provide effective humanitarian aid to the displaced people of South Sudan.

Building Blocks Program

The Building Blocks Program works with the WFP and uses blockchain and biometrics to transform the world of aid. In order to deliver food to those who need it, the program creates a public ledger. This way, refugees can receive grants, without sacrificing their privacy.

The Engine Room

Research specifically targeted to the use of technology in the humanitarian sector is essential. The Engine Room helps organizations to make informed technology decisions, use data and technology effectively and cut down on costs. Part of their mandate is to research the uses and impacts of biometric data in aid work.

Here is What the Humanitarian Future Might Look Like

New technologies have been changing the world for centuries. Today, technology is changing at a faster pace than ever. And that means a lot of new trends for the humanitarian future. We’ve covered some of the top trends in humanitarian tech on this website. Together, they will undoubtedly alter the global development and aid sectors. So here is an overview of what the humanitarian future might look like.

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