Biometrics and Identity in the Global South

20 December 2017 - A Workshop on Other in Geneva, Switzerland


Proposer's Name: Ms. Maria Paz Canales
Proposer's Organization: Derechos Digitales
Co-Proposer's Name: Ms. Marianne Diaz
Co-Proposer's Organization: Derechos Digitales
Maria Paz Canales, Civil Society, Derechos Digitales
Marianne Diaz, Civil Society, Derechos Digitales

Session Format: Debate - 60 Min

Country: Chile
Stakeholder Group: Civil Society

Country: Venezuela
Stakeholder Group: Civil Society

Speaker: Marianne Diaz
Speaker: Leandro Ucciferri
Speaker: Martin Borgioli
Speaker: Moses Karanja
Speaker: Chinmayi Arun

Content of the Session:
Biometric technology has grown steadily in use for the most different purposes, by governments and private actors, without a proper discussion about its impacts, without sufficient transparency of its providers and the conditions of security of the information, and without discussion about the impacts the individuals whose data goes in the machine (beyond the enthusiasm for larger amounts of data). From national identity cards and airport controls, to health service providers and retail vendors, biometry has become synonymous with identification. All in contexts where data protection laws and privacy safeguards are nonexistent or ineffective, where governments are eager to gather "data" for any purpose, and where foreign companies easily gain the attention of local governments to provide these technologies as "solutions".
In this session, we will address the human right issues surrounding the implementation of biometric technologies for identification in developing countries, in order to discuss how its deployment could affect privacy and freedom of expression, and how it already may be affecting it. We will bring together digital rights activists from different countries, who will discuss implementation cases from their own countries, along with actual and potential consequences and implications regarding their specific context. 

Relevance of the Session:
Biometrics solutions imply a huge amount of lost of control form the subject of their ability to manage their own identities in the physical and digital realm. Panelists will address the possible advantages and the oft-ignored disadvantages to the use of these technologies, and will exchange their approaches and experiences to contribute to a debate of the most appropiate policies to allow empowerment of the people in the managing of their own identities in the digital future.

Tag 1: Privacy
Tag 2: Human Rights
Tag 3: Digital Rights

Each speaker will have opportunity to briefly present her experience in the research of biometric technology implementation in their own countries by public or private entities and the risks and challenges that that implementation has possed to the human rights exercises in the local context.
We will ask them to share the obstacle and challenges confronted in their research and the policy and advocacy alternatives that can be develop to confront the use of biometric solutions.

The proposed speakers include some leading researcher women on the topic in the Global South. The proposed speakers are representatives of Global South countries with different levels of development, working on Civil Society organisations and academic institutions. Some of them will be for the first time speakers at an IGF session.

Onsite Moderator: Gisela Perez de Acha
Online Moderator: Vladimir Garay
Rapporteur: Maria Paz Canales

Online Participation:
The workshop moderator will have the online participation session open, and will be in close communication with the workshop’s trained online moderator, to make any adaptations necessary as they arise. The online moderator will intermediate the questions and comments provided by the online attendees, by each question in the room, it will be one question selected by the online moderator from the ones formulated by online attendees.

Discussion facilitation:
The aim is to have a multistakeholder discussion around the use of biometric technology in the Global South. We will achieve so by inviting several experts to represent different and diverse points of view. A set of questions, tailor-made for each speaker by the moderator, will aim to foster debate and get some answers on the topic. Each panelist will have two rounds to present their topics, and at the end questions will be opened to the public and to online participants.

Conducted a Workshop in IGF before?: No
Link to Report: 

Additional Speakers: 


  • Leandro Ucciferri (ADC) Leandro is a lawyer and researcher working at the intersection of human rights and technology, with a special focus on privacy and freedom of expression issues. He is a researcher at the Association for Civil Rights (Asociación por los Derechos Civiles)
  • Martin Borgioli (Hiperderecho) Martín is the Project Director at Hiperderecho in Peru; he is a lawyer from Blas Pascal University in Argentina, and he specialises in intellectual property and digital rights.
  • Chinmayi Arun (Centre for Communication Governance at National Law University Delhi) Chinmayi is the Research Director of the Centre for Communication Governance at National Law University Delhi, where she is also an Assistant Professor of Law. She is a member of the Indian Government’s multi stakeholder advisory group for the India Internet Governance Forum and one of the academic experts for the Internet & Jurisdiction Project’s Observatory. 
  • Moses Karanja (Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT) based at the Strathmore Law School in Nairobi, Kenya) Moses is a political scientist working on policy processes around information communication technologies. He specialises in information controls and counter-controls, privacy, human rights in the digital ecosystem, cybersecurity, Eastern Africa, multidisciplinary research and their attendant policies.
  • Russell King is the CEO of Paycasso, a company that provides facial recognition services for payment validation. 
  • Moderator: Marianne Díaz (DD) Marianne is a Venezuelan lawyer and digital rights activist working as a public policy analyst at Derechos Digitales. She specialises in freedom of speech and censorship in the digital environment.


Opening. The moderator will briefly introduce the topic and the panel members. The moderator will address each of the panelist using these talking points to lead the discussion; we will devote about ten minutes to each question:

  • Argentina is currently seeing one of the most pervasive uses of biometric technology through the Federal System for Biometric Identification. What do you think are the main and most urgent challenges and risks for human rights as a consequence of this policy?
  • Peru is implementing more and more uses of fingerprint identification allegedly for safety reasons, but there seem to be a lack of adequate public policies in place for guaranteeing certain controls with regard to the safeguard of this personal information. Do you think it’s possible to address this issue by creating certain standards of responsibility in the management of these data?
  • India is currently building the world’s largest biometric database, which is supposed to help boost the country’s digital economy and help include people who’ve been long excluded from education, health and social services systems. However its validity as a mandatory system is contended and some think it might violate basic human rights. Do you think the trade-off justifies this use of biometric technology?
  • In Kenya, biometric identification is being used in many critical areas, most recently in voting technology. In other countries, like Venezuela, this has had implications for political and societal control. Is this a challenge in Kenya? Do you think the use of biometric technology could alter the way people conduct themselves in society?
  • Paycasso has been providing biometric identification through facial recognition, and while you have worked to make your system extremely secure, you have also sustained that biometrics is not a panacea on its own, but there needs to be mechanism to prevent misuses of personal information. Which guidelines or measures do you think could companies or governments take to help prevent the issues that our other panelists have addressed?

Question-and-answer: we will take questions from the audience, and we will turn to our panelist for their closing remarks.