The Ryder Review: Independent Legal Review of the Governance of Biometric Data in England and Wales

“First, strong law and regulation is sometimes characterised as hindering advancements in the practical use of biometric data. This should not be the case. In practice a clear regulatory framework enables those who work with biometric data to be confident of the ethical and legal lines within which they must operate. They are freed from the unhelpful burden of self-regulation that arises from unclear guidelines and overly flexible boundaries. This confidence liberates innovation and encourages effective working practices. Lawmakers and regulators are not always helping those who want to act responsibly by taking a light touch.

Second, the importance of transparency and public consultation was emphasised by all stakeholders, but the practical effect of such emphasis was not always positive. On the one hand, obtaining active and informed public understanding through a structured process – such as a ‘citizens’ jury’ – could provide valuable information on which to base policy. But too often public and private authorities were relying on the public’s partially understood purported consent; an ill-defined assessment of public opinion; or the mere fact of an election victory, as a broad mandate for intrusive collection and use of the public’s biometric data.

The protection of our fundamental rights in relation to biometric data is a complex area which lawmakers and regulators must not delegate to others, or allow public or private authorities to avoid merely by relying on purported public consent. Now more than ever, they have a responsibility to step up to protect the public from the harms and risks that the public themselves may not fully appreciate or even be aware of.”

-Matthew Ryder, “The Ryder Review: Independent legal review of the governance of biometric data in England and Wales.” Ada Lovelace Institute. June 2022

What I found interesting about this report is that there is a common perspective in the United States that, somehow, law and government regulation stifle innovation. This points to an obvious fact. Well-written law actually is a catalyst for innovation because it lays down the rules of the game. Transparency and consulting with all stakeholders actually brings in many perspectives that allow for good solutions to problems and establishes important rights.

This is true of biometric data, but it is also true of much else. If you are part of an emerging industry, regulation can be useful. The trick is to find a way to write it so that it doesn’t only create de facto monopolies for the biggest players to do whatever they want without and create artificial moats that prevent competition from entering the space.