The UN Compendium of Recommended Practices for the Responsible Use and Sharing of Biometrics in Counter-Terrorism


In its resolution 2396 (2017), the Security Council decided that States should develop and implement systems to collect biometric data, which could include fingerprints, photographs, facial recognition and other relevant identifying biometric data, in order to responsibly and properly identify terrorists, including foreign terrorist fighters, in compliance with domestic law and international human rights law. The Council also encouraged States to share that data responsibly among relevant Member States, as well as with INTERPOL and other relevant international bodies.

The Security Council Addendum to the guiding principles on foreign terrorist fighters (2018) includes principle 38 (S/2018/1177) providing further guidance on developing biometric systems and ensuring their responsible use.

As Member States’ use of biometric systems continues to expand, the parameters for their responsible use continue to evolve accordingly. It is imperative that such systems be implemented in compliance with domestic law and international human rights law. It is also essential to provide safeguards for the protection of data and human rights, focusing in particular on the need to ensure that all systems developed to collect and record information about children are used and shared in a responsible manner that is compliant with human rights (Addendum to the guiding principles on foreign terrorist fighters [2018]).

"Biometrics is becoming an increasingly valuable tool for verifying identities, including those of suspected terrorists, in our new​, constantly evolving and deeply interconnected global security environment. However, we must be vigilant that the counter-terrorism use of biometrics technologies remains firmly anchored in human rights and respect the rule of law."

–Under-Secretary-General Vladimir Voronkov, United Nations Office for Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT)

"Promoting the responsible use of biometrics in counter-terrorism is essential to strengthening the capacity of Member States’ law-enforcement and border-control agencies. As the use of biometric systems continues to expand, the parameters for their responsible use should continue to evolve accordingly in order to provide robust safeguards, especially in cases where biometric data about children are used and shared."

–Assistant Secretary-General Michèle Coninsx, Executive Director Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED)

About the Compendium

The UN compendium of recommended practices for the responsible use and sharing of biometrics in counter-terrorism was developed by the Working Group on Border Management and Law Enforcement Relating to Counter-Terrorism of the Global Counterterrorism Coordination Compact, with financial support from the UN Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT), placed within the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT). The compendium addresses critical issues such as governance, regulation, data protection, privacy policy, human rights as well as risk management and vulnerability assessments.

Summary of the Sections

The compendium provides a high-level overview of biometric technology and operating systems within the context of counter terrorism. It is aimed primarily at Member States who may have little or no experience of biometric applications and who may also face technical assistance and capacity building challenges when implementing this technology. Comprehensive references, for further reading, are provided at the end of each section along with a summary of recommended practices. Case studies are introduced throughout the compendium to provide examples of good practice and emerging technologies.

  • The first section introduces the main elements of biometric technology and identity management, including the extensive use of biometrics in the fields of forensic science and law enforcement investigations and the additional complexity that this presents.
  • The next section deals with the governance and regulatory requirements for biometric technology from the perspectives of international law, human rights law, ethical reviews, data protection requirements and the right to privacy. This is followed by a broad look at the potential vulnerabilities of biometric systems and some of the control measures that can be used to mitigate the risks. International technical and scientific operating standards are then considered and these cover the certification and accreditation of the biometric applications as well as the quality management systems that are employed for associated forensic science processes. The section also addresses the procurement, maintenance and resource requirements of a counter terrorism biometric system or network and, in particular, the key operational and financial decisions that need to be made when evaluating a prospective new or extended system.
  • The final section provides a general overview of current counter terrorism biometric systems and databases across the spectrum of law enforcement, border management and military applications. It also considers the benefits of sharing biometric data on a bi-lateral, multi-lateral, regional and global scale and how biometric data, when used with other intelligence data, can be used pro-actively to prevent acts of terrorism in addition to its traditional role as an investigative tool. The actions taken by authorities, as a result of biometric matches, are then considered within the context of international human rights and the need for a fully informed, lawful and proportionate response. The section also deals with the inclusion of biometrics in counter terrorism strategies of Member States and Regions and the essential role of border and law enforcement agencies in actively supporting these strategies.
The Compendium was developed in partnership with the Biometrics Institute, a not-for-profit organization, which promotes the responsible and ethical use of biometrics and provides an independent and impartial forum for biometric users and other interested parties.

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