Privacy Impact Assessment Summary - Biometrics field trial

Biometric technologies, which automate the recognition of individuals based on unique physical characteristics such as fingerprints and facial characteristics, have begun to be introduced globally in immigration processes to ensure the integrity and efficiency of migration management. The benefits of using biometrics include helping to reduce fraud, speeding up background checks and strengthening security.

In 2006, CIC initiated a biometrics field trial in partnership with the Canada Border Services Agency. The trial involved the introduction of fingerprint and facial recognition technologies to the processing of temporary resident visa applicants (students, workers and visitors) at two visa offices abroad (Hong Kong and Seattle). Biometric verification was tested on entry to Canada at the Vancouver International Airport, and the Douglas/Pacific Highway land ports of entry in British Columbia. Biometric data collected from refugee claimants processed at the Etobicoke refugee intake centre were also part of the trial. The trial lasted six months, from October 2006 to April 2007. CIC used the results of the trial to explore the possibility of implementing biometrics in Canada’s immigration program.

The field trial was designed as a test of the technology in the federal environment to assess biometrics system performance, the impact of the biometrics field trial on clients, organizational and operational impacts, and privacy considerations. It was structured so that biometric data were not used to make case decisions.

The evaluation report concluded that fingerprint and facial recognition—either alone or together—yielded highly accurate results, and that biometric technology was effective in detecting fraud.

In order to comply with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s privacy measures, all biometric data collected during the field trial were destroyed in July 2007, once the analysis had been completed. The privacy risks identified as part of this assessment were low to moderate, and a mitigation plan was developed to deal with the issues.

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