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Home > Privacy and Government > Government Threats to Privacy > Surveillance > Biometric Surveillance

Biometric Surveillance

Even the strongest privacy advocates should not dismiss biometric surveillance, like scanning crowds for the facial characteristics of criminals, out of hand. The public benefits are too substantial.

Biometric surveillance may make air travel and any large event (like the Olympics) eminently safer because terrorists or rioters even pickpockets and purse-snatchers will be aware that they could be identified and apprehended even before they act. Biometric surveillance is a strong deterrent to crime.

People do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the appearance of their faces or other biometrics that are visible or left behind when they appear in public, including DNA information in sloughed off skin or hair. People do have a reasonable expectation, as innocents, that this information will not be compiled by the government, however. Biometric scanning technology should not be used to monitor for anyone other than people reasonably suspected of crime.

Law enforcement should be required to dispose of the biometric data of innocents once an investigation has closed. They should probably be able to keep biometric data on people convicted of serious crimes. Convicted criminals lose many rights, and freedom from most monitoring is probably one of them.

Congress should protect privacy and reassure the public with a law articulating appropriate and inappropriate uses of biometric information by government. It has authority to do so under section five of the Fourteenth Amendment, which gives it power to enforce the Fourth Amendment by statute.


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[updated 02/07/01]

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