Congress Seeks Insight on Handling Sensitive Personal Data
As technology grafts biometric tools into everyday amenities, lawmakers question how to prevent abuse and data breaches.
Happy Friday. We hope you have a nice long weekend and a lovely July 4. We won’t be sending you this newsletter on Tuesday, but we’ll be back in your inboxes on Friday next week. (If you want some recommended reading in the meantime, I have 20,000 words for you.)
Examining Biometrics and Privacy
This week, I went to the annual International Religious Freedom Summit and heard from people from all kinds of faiths and backgrounds about persecution around the globe—and how human rights advocates can fight back.
This year’s summit, as usual, focused on a wide range of topics, countries, and religious groups. China loomed large for its ongoing genocide of mostly Muslim ethnic minority groups in the northwest region of Xinjiang, repression in Tibet, crackdown on freedom in Hong Kong, and targeting of Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, and other religious groups.
Underpinning those human rights abuses is China’s sweeping surveillance network. Privacy has always been critical to ensuring religious freedom and freedom of speech. People must be able to speak to each other, practice their faiths, and move freely in their homes and cities without intimidation by government officials. In China, that has long been far from reality: The Chinese government has imposed one of the most far-reaching surveillance regimes in the world, not just in Xinjiang and Tibet, but also in the rest of the country.
As technology has advanced, other oppressive regimes have similarly jumped at the chance to easily surveil journalists, political dissidents, and religious minorities. This comes in many forms—software to pry into smartphones, cameras with better definition to track people coming and going, artificial intelligence to identify faces. China has taken it to an extreme, forcibly collecting DNA from Uyghurs and other minority groups en masse to automate identification of members of those ethnicities.
I mention all of this at the outset of today’s newsletter to frame a discussion that can become abstract at times. How the issues of privacy, surveillance technology, and new developments in biometrics unfold in real life, for real people facing tyranny, often gets lost in the weeds of theoretical research and various policy proposals.
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