Governments’ use of biometric systems have raised privacy concerns and the need for greater transparency and accountability. This is because these systems collect and store individuals’ physical traits such as fingerprints, facial recognition, iris scans, and other personal characteristics. Several countries have already implemented biometric data collection in their national identification cards and passports. Finger-based voting machines have been used in elections in Brazil since 2008 and were introduced in municipal elections in Colombia in 2009. In 2005, Brazil also introduced machine-readable biometric passports. Ingenico, a global electronic transaction company, will be deploying devices where clients can withdrew funds through fingerprint identification in Colombia and the Dominican Republic. Biometric identification has been criticized as being error-prone and unreliable, as well as being fundamentally detrimental to privacy, free expression, and the right to anonymity, especially with regards to vulnerable individuals such as dissidents, whistleblowers, and journalists.
In 2011, Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner issued a decree for the creation of a centralized biometric identification system, called the Federal System of Biometric Identification (SIBIOS). Part of an upgrade to Argentina’s National Registry of Persons (RENAPER), the system will be used by several government agencies, including the Federal Police, the Argentine National Gendarmerie, the National Coast Guard, and the Airport Security Police, and connect them into one database. A promotional video of the system claims that it is capable of identifying physical characteristics such as fingerprints and faces, as a means of identification, and therefore, they claim, increasing the capability of these organizations to combat crime.
Members of the Cyber Stewards Network are active in efforts to raise awareness on the use of surveillance technologies such as SIBIOS. Ramiro Ãlvarez Ugarte of Asociación por los Derechos Civiles in Argentina, a Cyber Steward Network member, has warned that SIBIOS lacks accountability and independent oversight, and has been investigating the extent and scope of the system’s capabilities. In November 2013, a statement signed by several civil society organizations and individuals (including other Cyber Stewards Network members Renata Avila and Paradigm Initiative Nigeria) was delivered to the co-chairs of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The OGP aims to promote transparency and adopt new technologies to strengthen governance.The statement calls for greater transparency among all governments, especially the OGP participating countries, regarding the use of surveillance technology and the export and import of such technology. It also advocates legal reform to existing laws to better protect privacy and human rights. The statement is one of many civil society efforts to raise awareness of the dangers of pervasive government surveillance and we will continue to provide updates as they become available.