At a glance:
Biometrics and children
A large new trial will fingerprint children aged 1 to 5 to track vaccinations and link them to their medical records via biometric information.
Some 20 million children are estimated to miss key vaccinations.
Most aid schemes don’t use biometrics on young children.
Algorithms developed in Japan will be tested in the trial, to be carried out in Bangladesh and Tanzania.
Project backers say there are extensive provisions for data protection, ethical oversight, and consent.
Critics point to a widening debate on data protection, technology ethics, and the risks and benefits of biometric IDs in development and humanitarian aid.
A trial project is being launched with the underlying betting that biometric identification is the best way to help boost vaccination rates, linking children with their medical records.
Thousands of children between the ages of one and five are due to be fingerprinted in Bangladesh and Tanzania in the largest biometric scheme of its kind ever attempted, the Geneva-based vaccine agency, Gavi, announced recently.
Although the scheme includes data protection safeguards – and its sponsors are cautious not to promise immediate benefits – it is emerging during a widening debate on data protection, technology ethics, and the risks and benefits of biometric ID in development and humanitarian aid.
Gavi, a global vaccine provider, is teaming up with Japanese and British partners in the venture. It is the first time such a trial has been done on this scale, according to Gavi spokesperson James Fulker.
Being able to track a child’s attendance at vaccination centres, and replace “very unreliable” paper-based records, can help target the 20 million children who are estimated to miss key vaccinations, most in poor or remote communities, Fulker said.
Up to 20,000 children will have their fingerprints taken and linked to their records in existing health projects. That collection effort will be managed by Simprints, a UK-based not-for-profit enterprise specialising in biometric technology in international development, according to Christine Kim, the company’s head of strategic partnerships.
Biometrics and Aid
The use of biometric data in aid delivery has become the focus of fierce debate in the past few weeks, as the World Food Programme paused food deliveries in Yemen’s capital city after Houthi rebels refused to allow the registration of recipients’ details.
The WFP says biometric registration is necessary to stop Houthi-aligned authorities from diverting aid. The Houthis, who are fighting a more than four-year war against a Saudi Arabia-led coalition and Yemen’s internationally recognised government, say the biometrics programme WFP proposed is “counter to national security”, and they want more control over the data.
The use of biometrics — be it fingerprints, iris scans, or photos — in humanitarian aid isn’t brand new, nor is it unique to Yemen. In Jordan, some Syrian refugees pay for groceries using WFP allowances by scanning their irises at checkout. In Uganda, a re-registration of refugees using biometric technology restored confidence in a relief programme troubled by allegations of fraud and fake registrations.
But it is controversial. Privacy advocates are concerned there isn’t yet enough research to prove the efficacy or necessity of biometrics, worrying about keeping the details of vulnerable people safe.