Use of Biometric Data to Identify Terrorists: Best Practice or Risky Business?


In 2017, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 2396, requiring States to “develop and implement systems to collect biometric data” in order to “responsibly and properly identify terrorists, including foreign terrorist fighters.” The availability of new technologies and the Covid-19 pandemic have increased both State interest in and capacity to collect and use biometric data for trans-border law enforcement and intelligence gathering, border management, and counter-terrorism.

Despite the increased use of biometric technology, human rights analysis and guidance remains limited and underdeveloped. There are growing concerns that biometric data application in domestic contexts may be adversely affecting human rights and civil society actors.

In realizing this issue, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism, developed this comprehensive report to address human rights implications of  states and the United Nations use of biometric data and tools, especially for counterterrorism. The report also notes the exclusion of civil society from the sites and processes in which counter-terrorism law, policy and practice governing the use of biometric data are developed and consolidated.