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LEGAL IMPLICATIONS OF BIOMETRIC IDENTIFICATION IN LAW ENFORCEMENT: PRIVACY AND CIVIL LIBERTIES

INTRODUCTION:

Biometric identification has evolved as a significant weapon in law enforcement in an era when technological breakthroughs are transforming numerous aspects of our life. Biometrics, which describes an individual’s unique physical or behavioral traits such as fingerprints, facial features, and iris patterns, provide an instantaneous and precise means of identification. However, the widespread implementation of biometric identification technology by law enforcement poses significant legal concerns about privacy and civil liberties. This blog delves into the legal implications of biometric identification in law enforcement, examining potential disputes between security needs and individual rights.[1]

THE EMERGENCE OF BIOMETRIC IDENTIFICATION:

Biometric identification has grown in prominence because of its capacity to deliver dependable and precise verification, lowering the possibility of misidentification. Law enforcement agencies are using biometric technologies such as fingerprint recognition, facial recognition, and iris scanning to identify those suspected, and trace offenders, and improve public safety. While these advances in technology have unquestionable benefits, their deployment must be done with caution to respect individuals’ privacy and civil freedoms.

PRIVACY CONCERNS:

The right to privacy is one of the key legal considerations concerning biometric identification in the enforcement of laws. Biometric data is regarded as extensively intimate and sensitive since it comprises unique identifiers connected to an individual. Law enforcement agencies’ acquisition, storage, and use of such data raises concerns about the level of privacy invasion and the possibility for misuse or abuse. To protect individuals’ privacy rights, strong regulatory structures and severe laws governing the collection, keeping, sharing, and deletion of biometric data are required.

CONSENT AND TRANSPARENCY:

When it involves the use of biometric identification, the issue of consent is critical. Before collecting or accessing biometric data, law enforcement agencies must guarantee that individuals offer informed and voluntary consent. Transparent biometric technology rules and procedures should be in place to notify individuals about the purpose, length, and potential implications of the information being gathered.[2] Citizens should also have the right to have access to and manage their own biometric information, allowing them to gain insight into how it is used and, if necessary, request its erasure.

ACCURACY AND RELIABILITY:

While biometric identification systems have shown significant promise, there are still issues concerning accuracy and dependability. False positives and false negatives can result in unjust arrests or an inability to identify true criminals. Law enforcement authorities must address these issues by assuring comprehensive testing, review, and continuous monitoring of biometric system accuracy and dependability. Independent auditing and validation by third parties can aid in maintaining public trust and confidence in the usefulness of tech.

ETHICAL USE AND BIAS:

Biases and discriminatory practices are not immune to biometric identification technologies. Facial recognition, for example, has been chastised for revealing prejudices based on race and gender in some circumstances. Law enforcement must proactively confront such prejudices and put measures in place to prevent discriminatory practices. Regular audits, bias testing, and the inclusion of diverse training datasets can all help to reduce the possibility of biased outputs and assure legal compliance.

DATA SECURITY AND RETENTION:

Because biometric data is so sensitive, guaranteeing its security is critical. To secure biometric information from unauthorised access, security breaches, or data breaches, law enforcement authorities must establish strong cybersecurity regulations. A robust security architecture must include encryption, access limits, and regular security audits. Furthermore, explicit data retention limits should be created to prevent prolonged retention of biometric data and the possibility of unlawful monitoring.

OVERSIGHT AND ACCOUNTABILITY:

Effective governance and accountability procedures must be implemented to avoid the exploitation or abuse of biometric identification technologies. Independent oversight bodies ought to monitor law enforcement agencies’ adoption and usage of biometric technology to guarantee that it adheres to legal obligations and ethical standards. Regular audits, transparency reports, and public accountability systems serve to uphold public trust and confidence in biometric identification’s appropriate use.

CROSS-AGENCY COLLABORATION AND INFORMATION SHARING:

Sharing of information and collaboration between law enforcement agencies is critical in the context of biometric identification for successful crime prevention and investigation. However, in order to protect privacy and civil liberties, biometric data sharing must take place inside a legally regulated framework.[3] To prevent unauthorized access or indiscriminate use, interagency agreements, defined protocols, and adherence to stringent data protection rules should regulate the sharing of biometric information.

INTERNATIONAL CONSIDERATIONS:

In the framework of international law enforcement cooperation, biometric identification creates significant legal issues. Law enforcement organisations must follow international legal frameworks, such as cooperation in court treaties and data protection legislation, when sharing biometric data across borders. To avoid breaches of privacy and conflicts of jurisdiction, it is critical to harmonise legislative requirements and ensure effective safeguards for cross-border data transfers.

LEGAL CHALLENGES AND CASE LAW:

Legal problems and case law serve an important role in influencing the legal landscape as biometric identification technologies develop and become more popular. Courts and regulatory bodies are increasingly faced with issues relating to the acceptability of biometric evidence, the appropriateness of data collection and retention, and the legitimacy of specific biometric practices. Legal precedents and judgments provide direction and define fundamental values for the use of biometric identification in law enforcement, balancing effective crime-fighting tools with rights for individuals.

PUBLIC DIALOGUE AND ENGAGEMENT:

Given the substantial implications of biometric identification on privacy and civil rights, it is critical to promote public dialogue and engagement. The public, civil society organisations and privacy advocates should be actively involved in talks about the application and supervision of biometric technologies by law enforcement organisations.[4] Transparent communication, public consultations, and feedback from a varied range of stakeholders can all contribute to the development of policies and practices that represent community values and issues.

CONCLUSION:

Biometric identification has considerable promise for law enforcement, providing precise and efficient ways of identifying and crime prevention. However, the legal ramifications of its use must be thoroughly addressed and weighed with privacy and civil freedoms. To strike the correct equilibrium, extensive legal frameworks, open regulations, ethical principles, and powerful oversight systems are required. By dealing with issues related to privacy, maintaining accuracy and reliability, mitigating biases, safeguarding data security, and encouraging public engagement, law enforcement departments can reap the advantages of biometric identification while maintaining fundamental rights and maintaining the public’s confidence in the system of justice.

Author(s) Name: Gunjankumar Santre (National Law University, Nagpur)

References:

[1] Jennifer Lynch, Face Off: Law Enforcement Use of Face Recognition Technology’ (SSRN E-JOURNAL, 23 Sep 2021) <https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3909038> accessed 24 May 2023

[2] Mohammad S. Obaidat, Biometric-Based Physical and Cybersecurity Systems (1st Edition., Springer Cham 2018)

[3] Alice  Noble, ‘DNA Fingerprinting and Civil Liberties’ (2006) 34(2) J. of LAW, MED & ETHCS, 149–152<https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-720X.2006.00023.x> accessed 25 May 2023

[4] Robert L. Popp & John Yen, Emergent Information Technologies and Enabling Policies for Counter‐Terrorism (1st  edition, Wiley-IEEE Press 2006)