The body as permanent digital identity? Societal and ethical implications of biometrics as mainstream technology
Keywords:identification practices, digital transformation, privacy, security, dignity, human rights
There is a global trend to expand biometric technology usage: digital identification practices increasingly gather peculiar features of the human body – in the security domain as well as in the consumer sector and everyday-technologies. This indicates a wider shift in the role of biometrics for digital identification entailing a significant further expansion of identifiability. Applying biometrics is frequently justified with security improvements. However, it also bears various security risks and individuals cannot simply opt-out from their bodies or change their bodily characteristics. On the longer run, human bodies may become partially reduced to enduring machine-readable, informational patterns as physical and digital environments conflate. Biometrics is thus a very powerful and threatful technology increasingly affecting how humans relate to technology, substantially challenging human rights. The paper argues that the far-reaching consequences of this development are yet underestimated and require broader societal debates and regulatory measures to reduce the corresponding risks, in particular as: 1) biometric information is bound to human bodies and thus irreversible, making individuals more vulnerable to misuse; 2) the shift from a security towards a mainstream technology fosters habituation effects and incremental compulsion to provide biometric features; 3) the extensive use of biometric systems facilitates misuse, reinforces surveillance tendencies, security, data protection and privacy issues; 4) biometrics used as automated control technology seriously strain human rights as it reinforces risks of discrimination, increasingly affecting bodily integrity and human dignity.
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Copyright (c) 2023 Stefan Strauß
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