WPF advises that DHS biometric collection proposal needs scientific, factual, ethical, and human rights basis, urges creation of transparent multistakeholder process to work on ethical guidelines regarding childrens’ biometrics

The World Privacy Forum filed comments with DHS regarding its proposed new rules regarding biometric collection, and asked DHS to reconsider the rule and to apply the science, ethics, and international conventions regarding the protection of victims of human trafficking to the rule prior to moving forward. WPF found that the proposed rule avoided discussion of the new barriers it would create for vulnerable populations, including victims of crimes such as human trafficking. Further, the DHS proposal outlines a significant expansion of the utilization of biometrics for individuals of all ages, including children and infants, a collection which is scientifically questionable and fraught with ethical questions and problems.

Remarkably, the proposal did not discuss the well-documented issues regarding biometrics for people at the younger and the older ranges of the age spectrum. In the landmark NIST study by Patrick Grother, Mei Ngan, and Kayee Hanaoka, (Face Recognition Vendor Test [FRVT] Part 3: Demographic Effects in Facial Systems, NIST, December 2019) NIST wrote: “We found elevated false positives in the elderly and in children; the effects were larger in the oldest adults and youngest children, and smallest in middle aged adults. The effects are consistent across country-of-birth, datasets and algorithms but vary in magnitude.” These facts were not reckoned with in the DHS proposal.

For these and multiple additional reasons WPF discusses in its comments, WPF has urged DHS to rescind the rulemaking, and to take a step back and institute a formal multistakeholder process inclusive of the public to create robust ethical guidelines for the use of biometrics with children. There are already good models of how some governments are approaching this kind of undertaking. In the UK, a data ethics advisory service (Biometric Forensics Ethics Group) is providing guidance and support to Home Office projects. It utilizes the data ethics framework developed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

WPF’s complete comments are available here: (PDF, 12 pages) WPF Comments to DHS regarding biometric collection