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Lawmakers worry about biometric data in wake of Roe v. Wade

Protecting information such as biometric data has become even more important given the Supreme Court's recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, U.S. House members were told.

The reversal of Roe v. Wade is expanding the conversation in Congress around biometric data and data privacy.

The U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held a hearing Wednesday to discuss privacy issues around biometric data, and the benefit of biometric technology. Biometric data is information such as facial IDs and fingerprints.

The goal of the hearing was to understand how technology can be used to secure data privacy that would continue to allow biometric data tools to be safely used, especially for government agencies, said Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., committee chairman. He said lawmakers are attempting to address biometric data privacy concerns and technology use through proposed legislation such as the America COMPETES Act, which establishes definitions and standards for biometric identification systems and provides investment in data privacy technologies.

Foster said the timing of the discussion on biometric data was particularly notable given the Supreme Court's recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade that "substantially weakened the constitutional right to privacy." Foster said that's why privacy-enhancing technologies for biometric data "can and should be implemented along with biometric technologies."

"States attempting to criminalize access to medical care may try to use biometric data to prove where someone has been and what they did when they were there," Foster said during the hearing. "Third parties may also try to access biometric information to collect the bounties now being offered by some states to enforce their new laws. This makes protecting Americans' biometric data more important than ever."

Protecting data while fostering biometric tech innovation

Biometric data is "no different than any other advanced technology" in that there are beneficial uses, but also its misuses can harm individuals by compromising data privacy and information security, said Rep. Jay Obernolte, R-Calif., committee ranking member.

Yet heavily regulating biometric technology could negatively impact its benefits, Obernolte said. For example, biometric technology and data has helped the Ukraine defense ministry using Clearview AI, a commercial provider of biometric systems, to recognize Russian assailants.

This makes protecting Americans' biometric data more important than ever.
Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill.

He said it's up to policymakers to conduct due diligence to result in a better understanding of the technology, as well as carefully develop guidelines and standards for biometric technology use.

"Biometrics bring a lot of benefits to our daily lives and we want to make sure we're able to continue to allow those benefits while protecting the privacy of the people who rely on biometrics," he said.

Candice Wright, director of science, technology assessment and analytics at the U.S. Government Accountability Office, said federal agencies' expanding use of biometric technology raises not only data privacy concerns, but concerns about technology accuracy, transparency in its usage, data security risk and protection of civil liberties.

Government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, for example, also rely on Clearview AI to identify perpetrators and victims in child exploitation cases.

Federal use of the technology means agencies should assess the privacy implications and privacy requirements before using biometric data tools like facial recognition systems, she said.

"Facial recognition technology is not going away and demand for it will likely continue to grow," she said. "As agencies continue to find utility in the technology to meet their mission, balancing the benefits of the technology with data security requirements and privacy protections will continue to be important."

Makenzie Holland is a news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget, she was a general reporter for the Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain Dealer.

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