Press release: Institute urges caution in cutting corners on COVID-19 solutions

On Data Privacy Day 2021, as it prepares a review of its Privacy Guidelines for Biometrics, the Biometrics Institute stresses the importance of both public health and privacy. It urges caution to anyone rushing to develop a biometric solution to the issues thrown up by COVID-19.

In the last 12 months, the global pandemic has changed society as we know it. The world has had to quickly embrace new thinking, new technology and new methods of interacting to battle the virus, monitor bio-hazard risks and enable economies to continue to function. But how much privacy do we expect the public to give up to end the pandemic, the international membership organisation asks?

In workplaces, at borders and in public places, biometrics have the potential to contribute to a modern approach to the global challenge. The responsible use of the technology could enable a contactless lifestyle and societal functionality to mitigate contamination risks. Biometrics could also transform how we monitor and manage the health of individuals entering crowded and therefore potentially hazardous places like office buildings, shops, factories, airports and stadiums. A biometrically-enabled digital health credential could get the world moving again.

But with so many claims of silver bullet solutions flooding the market, anyone implementing biometrics should approach their project responsibly and ethically and not allow the current landscape to tempt them to cut corners, the institute urges.

Isabelle Moeller, chief executive of the Biometrics Institute says, ‘We need an informed discussion on how to protect health data, as well as public health. Proper policies and processes must be implemented before the technology is rolled out. COVID-19 has created potential new use cases of biometrics in the application of video and other surveillance to trace people who have tested positive or interacted with individuals who have. Whether health protection trumps privacy protection is a new and controversial question for our age. We hope the global community will continue to use our Three Laws of Biometrics to guide them in their implementations. This is a very timely moment for the update to our Privacy Guidelines.’

The Biometrics Institute has begun its biennial process of updating its Privacy Guidelines for Biometrics to make sure they reflect global changes in technology or legislation which impacts privacy. These updates are the result of extensive monitoring and consultation by its Privacy and Policy Expert Group, which comprises a broad spectrum of specialists from around the globe.

Due to be released in May, the review will examine how the following developments may require changes to the guidelines:

  • Digital transformation, COVID-19 and impacts on health data collection, access and storage
  • Collection and retention of coronavirus-related data for travel and public health purposes
  • Sophistication and privacy implications of artificial intelligence
  • Discrimination risks

The guidelines, first introduced to Biometrics Institute members in 2006, are currently made up of 16 principles ranging from non-discrimination to maintaining a strong privacy environment. They also contain a methodology to make planning, implementing and managing them straightforward, regardless of members’ maturity in using biometrics.

Biometrics Institute members can access the current guidelines here.



More information about the Privacy and Policy Expert Group

The Privacy and Policy Expert Group, which draws up the Biometrics Institute Privacy Guidelines, comprises 11 institute members working in academia, government, air travel, law, social media and the technology supplier industry. The group represents considerable knowledge on biometrics and legal issues, data protection, ethics, privacy and public policy. It has an international remit, while members are based in the following countries:

  • Australia
  • Singapore
  • Israel
  • Spain
  • UK
  • USA

Upcoming Biometrics Institute events

3 March 2021: Global Good Practice Series – Biometrics and Surveillance

The first in the Global Good Practice Series of educational events which focus on biometrics and surveillance. These events will feature expert conversations on good practices for biometrics, all linked to the Biometric Institute Good Practice Framework.

20 and 27 April: ID@Borders & Future of Travel Conference

The annual event bringing together borders experts and decision-makers from the Biometrics Institute’s diverse and global multi-stakeholder community.

About the Biometrics Institute

The Biometrics Institute is the independent and impartial international membership organisation for biometric users and other interested parties. It was established in 2001 to promote the responsible use of biometrics and has offices in London and Sydney.

With more than a thousand members from 240 membership organisations spread across 30 countries, it represents a global and diverse multi-stakeholder community. This includes banks, airlines, government agencies, biometric experts, privacy experts, suppliers and academics.

The Biometrics Institute connects the global biometrics community. It shares knowledge with its members and key stakeholders and most importantly, develops good-practices and thought leadership for the responsible and ethical use of biometrics.

For more information, please email Claire Fox Baron:


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