Individual biometric data – that is, our unique facial features, iris patterns, fingerprints, or voice – is being increasingly collected to verify our identities by governments, private companies, and aid organizations. UNHCR has now biometrically registered approximately 4.4 million refugees and asylum-seekers in 48 countries. This promotional video illustrates how the UNHCR and the private company IrisGuard collaborated to implement iris scanning for millions of Syrian refugees in Jordan, enabling them to access much needed aid. The other video, produced by South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), introduces their system to verify the identities of children and infants, for whom biometric recognition can be difficult.
While the detailed information that UNHCR and CSIR collect can be used to identify those who are stateless, there are substantive concerns about their potential for abuse and the impossibility of meaningful consent by those who need help the most.