RUL Report #1: Benefits and Risks of Using Biometric Technologies in Humanitarian Aid Efforts

Sofia Sanz-Kimura

StaRIS Internship

Foreword (Dr Evie Papada)

As a response to migration and fears regarding diminishing border controls globally, governments and international organisations increasingly experiment with digital technologies and biometrics for border and migration management. The unequivocal aim of contemporary migration management is to prevent people from reaching the global north. In this report, Sofia Sanz-Kimura spells out the risks and benefits of these technologies and their implications for humanitarian border management. Biometric border and immigration management and the widespread use of facial recognition technologies are radically transforming our traditional understanding of public spaces and freedom of movement.

The report is the final product of Sofia’s engagement with the St Andrews Research Internship Scheme (StARIS) and her collaboration with Evie Papada. The Scheme offers the opportunity for undergraduate students to enhance their learning experience by working on academic research projects. Sofia’s report ties into the broader aims of the Critical Understanding of Preventive Policing (CUPP) an international and interdisciplinary research project funded by Nordforsk, managed by Dr Evie Papada and Dr Antonis Vradis.

1. Introduction

Since the early 2000s, there has been a rise in the deployment of biometric technologies in humanitarian border management and refugee settings. This has come as refugee crises have exacerbated globally, with refugees, particularly from Africa, Asia and the Middle East fleeing their native countries to escape political, racial, or religious persecution, war, famine, and other disasters, and to seek safety and opportunity. In this report, I will explore the benefits and risks of the use of biometric technologies in monitoring the movement of refugees and asylum seekers. I will first briefly define biometrics and explain the history of biometrics in humanitarian aid. I will then discuss the benefits of using biometric technologies in such a context, particularly highlighting its usefulness for verification and identification, its registration speed, and its prevention of fraud. I will then consider the risks of the use of biometric technologies in humanitarian aid, particularly emphasising the issues of consent, exclusion, reliability, reusability, and data security. Finally, I will provide recommendations for future uses of biometric technologies in refugee settings.

Click here to download Sofia’s full report (.pdf)

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