biometrics, identification, human enhancement
 cloning, genetic modification, animal researchgenetics, dna, stem cell research
forensic, dna, criminal databasesmedical ethics, clinical trials, human biological research


A biometric modality is any measurable, physical or physiological feature or behavioural trait that can be used to identify an individual or to verify the claimed identity of an individual. Examples of physiological biometrics include fingerprints, hand geometry, the face, the iris and the retina. Behavioural biometrics include, voice, signature dynamics and gait (manner of walking).

Recent years have been characterised by a more stringent requirement for people to be identifiable in response to security threats and to combat the escalating problems of identity theft. This increasing need to determine who an individual is has resulted in substantial growth in the implementation and use of biometric applications. However, the use of biometric systems and applications raises a number of social, legal and ethical questions, particularly issues of human dignity and identity (individuality) and basic rights such as privacy, autonomy, bodily integrity, confidentiality, equity and, in the case of criminal investigation, due process.

In November 2007, the Irish Council for Bioethics established a Rapporteur Group to consider the ethical, social and legal issues relating to biometric technologies in Ireland.

On 4 November 2009 the Council published its latest opinion document
Biometrics: Enhancing Security or Invading Privacy? Opinion
Click here to download the document as a pdf
The press release is available here...

This opinion document examines, in detail, existing and forthcoming biometric technologies, and the ethical and legal ramifications that are relevant to this technology.

(This document file is 5.2 Mb in size. Reducing the size of the file any further would adversely affect the resolution of the images within the document).

The Council is of the view that, when implemented appropriately and managed correctly, biometric technologies can both improve security and enhance privacy. However, this positive view of biometrics is tempered by the knowledge that these technologies could have significant implications for an individual's privacy. Consequently, the Council places paramount importance on respecting and protecting an individual's autonomy as well as his/her personal and informational privacy with regard to the collection, use and storage of his/her biometric and other personal information.


Prior to deliberating on the issues concerning biometrics, the Council was eager to hear the views of stakeholders. With this in mind, the Council held a number of meetings with interested parties from the fields of law, science and technology, and on behalf of the government.

In addition, it is the established policy of the Irish Council for Bioethics to conduct some form of public consultation relating to the topic the Council is currently working on. However, as biometrics is an emerging and complex set of technologies, the Council took the view that the level of knowledge of these technologies and the issues associated with them among the general public would be somewhat limited.

Focus groups were considered to be the optimal mechanism to elicit the full range of ideas, attitudes, experiences and opinions held by a selected sample of respondents on the complex topic of biometric technologies. This methodology allowed for clarification, probing and follow up questions, which would not have been possible to the same extent in a written questionnaire.

In addition, the Council produced an information leaflet highlighting some of the main ethical issues associated with biometrics.

Biometrics Information Leaflet
Click here to download an information leaflet (pdf)






Biometrics Conference

The Irish Council for Bioethics held a Half-Day Conference on the Scientific, Ethical and Legal Issues Relating to Biometric Technologies on Wednesday 26th November 2008 in the Royal College of Physicians, Kildare Street, Dublin 2.
Click here to download the programme (pdf)

Conference Proceedings

The Council has published the proceedings of the conference
Biometrics: Enhancing Security or Invading Privacy?
Click here to download the proceedings.

Conference Speaker Presentations

Mr. Max Snijder
CEO European Biometrics Forum

Biometrics and (e-) Identity:
Click here to watch the video and presentation

Mr. Peter Hanel
Director European Biometrics Forum

Implementation, Limitations and Future of Biometrics
Click here to watch the video and presentation (part 1)
Click here to watch the video and presentation (part 2)

Professor Emilio Mordini
Director of the Centre for Science, Society and Citizenship; Scientific Coordinator, Biometrics Identification Technology Ethics (BITE) Project

The Ethical and Social Implications of Biometric Technologies
Click here to watch the video and presentation

Mr. Billy Hawkes
Data Protection Commissioner of Ireland

Biometrics: Assessing the Impact on Privacy
Click here to watch the video and presentation


Mr Max Snijder (CEO, European Biometrics
Forum) speaking at the Biometrics Conference.



Speakers at the Biometrics Conference (left to right): Prof. Emilio Mordini (Director of the Centre for Science, Society and Citizenship), Mr. Peter Hanel (Director, European Biometrics Forum) and Mr. Max Snijder (CEO, European Biometrics Forum).





Pictured (from left to right): Mr. Stephen McMahon (Member, ICB), Mr. Ray Byrne (Law Reform Commission) and Prof. Santiago Sia (Milltown Institute).



For further information about this event e-mail info'at' (replace 'at' with @)


Terms of Reference

1. To consider the ethical, social and legal implications arising from the application of biometric technologies and the collection, use and storage of biometric information
2. To seek the views of stakeholders and to evaluate the public's perception of issues relating to biometrics
3. To report on all aspects of the Council’s deliberations and conclusions

Rapporteur Group

Professor Alan Donnelly
Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences, University of Limerick
Mr. Asim A. Shiekh BL (Vice Chair, ICB)
Forensic and Legal Medicine, School of Medicine and Medical Sciences, University College Dublin
Mr. Stephen McMahon
Irish Patients' Association

Photo Credits: Pasieka/Science Photo Library; and Dermot Byrne Photography