Head to Head: Biometrics and Aid

The use of biometric data in aid delivery has become the focus of fierce debate in the past few weeks, as the World Food Programme paused food deliveries in Yemen's capital city after Houthi rebels refused to allow the registration of recipients' details.

The WFP says biometric registration is necessary to stop Houthi-aligned authorities from diverting aid. The Houthis, who are fighting a more than four-year war against a Saudi Arabia-led coalition and Yemen's internationally recognised government, say the biometrics programme WFP proposed is counter to national security, and they want more control over the data.

As the standoff between WFP and the Houthis continues alongside ongoing negotiations, we asked two experts on biometrics � Linda Raftree and Karl Steinacker, both independent consultants with experience in humanitarian settings � to weigh in on the same six questions. As you might expect, they take very different views on the issues at play.

The use of biometrics � be it fingerprints, iris scans, or photos � in humanitarian aid isn't brand new, nor is it unique to Yemen. In Jordan, some Syrian refugees pay for groceries using WFP allowances by scanning their irises at checkout. In Uganda, a re-registration of refugees using biometric technology restored confidence in a relief programme troubled by allegations of fraud and fake registrations.

But it is controversial. Privacy advocates are concerned there isn't yet enough research to prove the efficacy or necessity of biometrics, worrying about keeping the details of vulnerable people safe.

Aid agencies argue the new technology can make sure aid gets where it is supposed to go, and could even make it easier to pick up assistance. After all, you don't have to keep track of an ID card that entitles you to aid when an iris scan does the job.

Source: The New Humanitatian