The Government must gauge the public interest - and even introduce new legislation - over the deployment of technologies which use new biometrics and artificial intelligence-driven analytics or risk a consumer backlash.
So says independent government advisor Paul Wiles and new Commissioner for the Retention & Use of Biometric Material. He laid out his views in a speech to the Westminster Forum, in which he focused on the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The move comes as trials of the new Covid-19 contact-tracing app begin on the Isle of Wight.
Earlier this week, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham insisted her office would be keeping a close eye on the privacy features, but Wiles said: “Different uses of the technology [in the UK] have emerged out of a series of separate pragmatic decision from government and the private sector.
“So far, continuing with that approach has seemed to be the preferred method of the Government, encouraged by a muted public response to current uses of the technologies. However, the extent of public concern has been growing.”
Wiles highlighted the public interest issue, especially around the use of biometrics as this often requires data about individuals that can reveal aspects of their biological being or social behaviour.
He added: “Such intrusion can only be justified on the basis that it brings other, more general benefits, that outweigh these disadvantages. In other words, intrusions into individual rights must be balanced against a wider public interest: what lawyers refer to as ‘proportionality’.”
Finally, Wiles called for fresh legislation to govern the use of new technologies by state bodies. He said that while there has been a commitment to do this for new biometrics in policing, the pandemic has shown legislation needs to be applied to other organisations and for the broader use of new technologies.
“Such legislation will need a cross-government approach, will not be easy and take time to develop. What I do not see yet is a minister anywhere in government leading such thinking and starting a public conversation.”