Use of Biometric Data to Identify Terrorists: Best Practice or Risky Business?

University of Minnesota

The distinct value and practical benefits of the use of biometric data is increasingly acknowledged including in the context of addressing trans-border challenges in law enforcement and intelligence gathering, border management, evidentiary and forensic use. This trend is also reflected in the regulatory efforts by the United Nations Security Council.  Specifically, resolution 2396 requires that States “develop and implement systems to collect biometric data” in order to “responsibly and properly identify terrorists, including foreign terrorist fighters.”

Despite the rapid advance of biometric technology and its widespread usage, human rights analysis and guidance on its use remains limited. As a contribution towards bridging this gap, the report explores, through a human rights lens, the use of biometric tools and data in the context of preventing and countering terrorism. Against the background of obligations imposed by the United Nations Security Council requiring States to develop biometrics systems and collect relevant data, in line with international human rights law norms, it identifies salient human rights gaps in domestic and international legal and policy approaches. Prepared under the aegis of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, the report further advances a series of recommendations aimed at States, business enterprises, United Nations entities and the global counter-terrorism architecture.

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