7 August 2017

New article: Fingerprint registration and iris scanning plays a bigger role in biopower

The United Nation’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR) increasingly collects biometric data such as fingerprints, face recognition and iris scanning.

The increase of this practice forms the foundation of Senior Researcher Katja Lindskov Jacobsen’s new article “On Humanitarian Refugee Biometrics and New Form of Intervention”, published in Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding. The article aims to explain the consequences of UNHCR’s increasing obtainment of biometric data.

The practice was founded in the beginning of 2000s as a pilot project in Afghanistan and Tanzania, but was soon stated as official policy within the UNHCR. Biometric data is collected strategically in order to prevent aid fraud, to obtain more detailed knowledge on refugees and especially to reduce the timeframe of the legal process by which asylum seekers are granted refugee status. 

At the same time several states are interested in the extensive UNHCR biometric index. Lebanon for example requires access to the part of the index that contains biometric data on registered individuals on Lebanese territory. This situation causes unforeseen problems because the UNHCR primarily uses the data to protect refugees. If the host country considers national security as a more important issue than the protection of refugees, the index will play a more decisive role in the power dynamics of these countries, and this was not the initial intention of UNHCR.

You can read the whole article here