Biometric technologies, from voice recognition to digital fingerprinting, have proliferated through society in recent years. While these technologies promise various societal benefits in terms of convenience and security, they also raise deep ethical and societal concerns.
Over the past few years, live facial recognition (LFR) has served as the poster child for biometric controversy, prompting worries about the potential of the technology to be used as a tool for surveillance and oppression, as well as about technical failure and differential rates of accuracy for different groups.
But the challenges presented by biometric technologies are not limited to facial recognition. Other forms of biometric identification, such as voice recognition, pose similar questions to those presented by LFR. The emergence of systems that use biometric data to make inferences about people’s characteristics (such as their gender, race and sexuality) raise further questions about if and how biometric systems and data can be used responsibly.
There has been an ongoing debate about the adequacy of the UK’s regulatory and oversight structures to grapple with new uses and instantiations of biometrics data and technologies. While both the European Union and the USA have been working on introducing new legislation and regulations in response to the rise of new biometric capabilities, such as facial recognition, the UK regulatory landscape remains a piecemeal mix of existing statutory law, new case law and emerging practice.
This programme aims to disentangle the complex ethical and policy challenges raised by biometric technologies, as well as to explore the potential for regulatory and oversight reform in the UK and Europe. Our work on biometrics has three strands:
- Engagement with the public on their views, hopes and concerns regarding biometric technologies.
- In 2019, the Ada Lovelace Institute published the findings of Beyond Face Value, the first national survey of public opinion on the use of facial recognition in the UK.
- Throughout 2020 the Ada Lovelace Institute established the Citizens’ Biometrics Council to deliberate on the use of biometric technologies. The Council included a demographically diverse group of 50 members of the UK public. They participated in a series of in-person and online workshops between February and October in 2020, resulting in the publication of a major report in March 2021.
- Assessing the current state of the law on biometrics.
- We commissioned an independent legal review of the governance of biometric data in England and Wales, led by Matthew Ryder QC. The Ryder Review made 10 recommendations for the regulation of the use of biometric data, such as faces, fingerprints, walking style (gait), tone of voice, expressions and all other data derived from measures of the human body.
- Researching and developing policy on the specific regulations, accountability mechanisms and institutional frameworks required for the responsible deployment of biometric technologies.
The impact we seek
Our Biometrics programme enables us to achieve our strategic goals in the following ways:
- We have anticipated transformative innovation in the biometrics sector through commissioning the first national survey of public attitudes to facial recognition, and beginning research on a policy and statutory framework for biometrics which pre-empted proposals by the European Union on this topic.
- We are amplifying the voices of people by centring public attitudes and deliberative public input into policy discussion.
- We are rebalancing power over data and AI by clarifying the existing statutory framework for governing biometrics and providing policy analysis and recommendations to promote responsible use of biometrics data and technologies.
An independent legal review of the governance of biometric data, commissioned by the Ada Lovelace Institute and led by Matthew Ryder KC.
Bringing together 50 members of the UK public to deliberate on the use of biometrics technologies like facial recognition.
Views from the Citizens’ Biometrics Council on the Information Commissioner’s Office’s proposed approach to biometrics
Independent legal review of the governance of biometric data in England and Wales
The need for new legislation to govern biometric technologies in the UK
Report with recommendations and findings of a public deliberation on biometrics technology, policy and governance
First survey of public opinion on the use of facial recognition technology reveals the majority of people in the UK want restrictions on its use
In-person launch event at the Royal Society
What we can learn from international developments in the governance and regulation of biometric technologies
Launch event for the final report of the Citizens' Biometrics Council – findings and recommendations
From the Ada blog
How has biometric data collection caused harm in the context of humanitarian interventions and where do future risks lie?
Ada’s Director Carly Kind reflects on the last year and looks ahead to 2023
- AI and data ethics
- AI policy
- Algorithm impact assessment
- Biometric technologies
- Biometrics regulation
- Contact tracing
- Data governance
- Data regulation
- Digital vaccine passports
- Enabling a responsible AI ecosystem
- Ethics and accountability in practice
- Facial recognition technology
- Health data
- Health data and COVID-19 tech
- Health technology
- JUST AI
- Public attitudes
- Public-sector use of data & algorithms
- Recommendation systems
- The future of regulation
What are the precedents, arguments and future prospects for legislation at city to state level?
Why plans to use biometrics in the UK Digital Identity and Attributes Trust Framework need careful consideration.
Normalising the principles of oppression through discriminatory technologies
The first of a three-part exploration of biometric technologies, looking at how we define biometric data, categorise its uses and conceive of its risk
A meditation on people, technology, place and space
When the direction of travel is towards more extensive use of biometrics and surveillance, do we need more or less oversight?
The appeal of R (Bridges) v Chief Constable of South Wales shows that, when it comes to facial recognition technology, the status quo cannot continue.
Reflections from round one of the Citizens' Biometric Council.