International Women’s Day: Balancing biometrics

On International Women’s Day on 8 March 2019, the Biometrics Institute’s chief executive Isabelle Moeller wrote on LinkedIn:

“The International Women’s Day organisers are right: balance is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue – and we need to work hard to achieve a better balance in biometrics. 

We have of course been using biometric features to identify our fellow humans since the beginning of time through facial recognition, by the way they walk, or their hand print left as a distinguishing mark beside a cave drawing. But since the explosion in the use of automated recognition systems through advances in technology we are living in the time in history when decisions are being made which will change the way we live our lives. It’s crucial we get as wide a perspective as possible on the ethical use of biometric technology to ensure it’s safe, fair and works for the good of all of us. 

We need a better balance in biometrics, says Isabelle Moeller


It’s hard to know exactly what our gender split is in biometrics. At the Biometrics Institute we are an anomaly, with all-female offices in London and Sydney, offset by our board to which we have just welcomed back a female director. We know our membership is 29% female – a figure mirrored by the gender split of attendees at our last three member meetings. This roughly aligns with statistics generated by WISE – the campaign for gender balance in science technology and engineering – which says the number of women employed in professional scientific and technical roles was 31% in 2018. But according to WISE, only 16% of women held professional management positions in IT last year and 13% held STEM management roles. 

So please join with me in encouraging your female colleagues to join in the conversation, ask them to attend our meetings, ask them to connect with us, ask them to find out about our expert groups and how the wider industry might access their viewpoints.

We all know how shocking the figures are of girls studying STEM subjects. So while you’re at it, encourage any other girl or woman out there to consider joining our amazing biometrics community. Take a look at this selection of just a few of our brilliant female members to get you all inspired.

It’s only by being balanced that we can make sure the systems that run our banks, our border control, our counter-terrorism measures, our phones, our government services are more, are robust, secure and accurate and unbiased – for us all.”

Twenty nine percent of our members are women. Want to join them? Find out how you can balance the global conversation on biometrics here.

Here’s a summary of the expertise just four of our talented members bring to the Biometrics Institute and the wider industry.

Isabelle Moeller

Chief Executive, Biometrics Institute

Isabelle Moeller joined the Biometrics Institute in 2002.

She runs the organisation from London with the support of a currently all-female team in both London and Sydney. She travels around the world to help shape international policy and connect the institute’s global membership through thought leadership, guidance and best practice guidelines.

Isabelle used her background in marketing and events to grow the organisation’s membership which now stands at more than a thousand members from around 240 member organisations spread across 30 countries.

“This is a really exciting year for us where we’ll be focusing on the ethics of biometrics. How do we balance the potential of what biometrics can offer with what society really wants and needs? We want to bring as many voices together from our diverse membership of experts to steer the conversation towards a future where biometrics impacts positively on all our lives.”

Last year, Isabelle met with the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate to sign an Arrangement on Cooperation in response to numerous Security Council resolutions on counter-terrorism. This means the institute and its members will help define, develop and support projects to promote these resolutions. In particular, it will address the need to strengthen member states’ capacity to collect, store and share biometric data across international borders to reduce the threat of terrorism.

Dr Sandra Leaton Gray

Associate Professor of Education, UCL Institute of Education

Member of the Biometrics Institute Privacy Expert Group 

Sandra studied singing and piano at the London College of Music before gaining a PhD in Education at Cambridge University. She is now Associate Professor of Education at the UCL Institute of Education.

Her research interests include the sociology of technology and its impact on children and young people, including the role of Big Data and artificial intelligence. She’s written and co-authored numerous books and papers including Invisibly blighted: the digital erosion of childhood

Sandra entered the world of biometrics around 12 years ago when she objected to British schools using fingerprints of pupils to assess their eligibility for school meals and verify their identities for library books.

“We absolutely need a better gender balance in biometrics to so that we can throw light on how systems work within everyday society, not just in the development lab. We don’t want to see a lack of diversity leading to new products that have a disproportionately negative effect on the lives of women and young people.”

She is now a member of the Biometrics Institute’s Privacy Expert Group which focuses on issues related to the impact of biometrics on the public. As part of her role with the Institute she co-authors the group’s Privacy Guidelines which are revised every two years. She is also a director of The Privacy Practice, a boutique consultancy which gives privacy advice to leading international firms, particularly in relation to the European General Data Protection Regulation.

Pam Dixon

Director, World Privacy Forum

Pam Dixon is a leader in the field of biometrics. Her expertise has helped define global public policy and standards in biometrics. She promotes the responsible use of biometrics in her role as founder and executive director of the World Privacy Forum.

Pam has been named a top-100 influencer in identity in 2019 by OWI. Her biometrics research work on India’s Aadhaar, was quoted directly in the 2018 landmark Supreme Court of India case on biometrics. Her principle that biometrics should create public good was the basis of a new principle for Indian privacy policy put forward by the Supreme Court in its decision. 

In her other privacy work, Pam has testified multiple times before the US Congress on matters relating to privacy and data, as well as at the Federal Trade Commission. She is also a member of the AI Expert Group at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The group is compiling the first multinational consensus guidelines on AI, which include biometric use cases.

Pam is an active member of our Privacy Expert Group. She has been involved in updating our privacy guidelines, has spoken multiple times at our conferences and events, and has represented the institute at other conferences on identity issues.  

Lisa MacDonald

Director, Identity Capabilities Management Division – Department of Homeland Security Office of Biometric Identity Management

As a graduate in English from Georgetown University, Lisa went on to gain her master’s in public administration from George Mason University.

Lisa has spent the last 11 years in the field of biometrics and identity management. She first become involved with biometrics as a consultant, supporting what was then the Department of Defense Biometrics Task Force in developing its first Biometrics Enterprise Strategic Plan.

“We have a tremendous responsibility to do right in protecting the data we are entrusted with, to commit to and ensure privacy. I am proud to work with organisations that deliver biometric services which make a real difference every day supporting national security and public safety. I feel lucky to be part of that.”

She then transitioned to US Government service where she led strategic planning, governance, and outreach functions. She is currently the Director of the Identity Capabilities Management Division at the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM). The organisation operates and maintains the largest biometric database in the US government, provides human biometric examiner services, and additional biometric data sharing and coordination services.    

Lisa was influential in the creation of the United States’ new Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) biometric database. She played a key role in garnering support for the new system with key stakeholders and decision makers, including extensive work with OBIM’s diverse customer base and technology staff.

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