Biometrics and public health surveillance in criminalised and key populations: policy, ethics, and human rights considerations

Matthew M. Kavanagh, Stefan Baral, Maureen Milanga, Jeremy Sugarman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Widespread public health surveillance efforts focused on key populations (men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who inject drugs, and others) gather data on population sizes, HIV prevalence, and other information for planning and resource allocation. Biometric identification might improve this data gathering. However, in the context of extensive criminalisation of these populations, the use of biometrics such as fingerprints raises concerns that are insufficiently addressed in current policies. These concerns include infringing privacy, exposing participants to risks of legal action or violence, biasing surveillance results, and undermining trust in the health system. We set out key ethics and human rights considerations regarding the use of biometrics in HIV surveillance among these populations, and outline a typology of jurisdictions wherein such methods might be considered, based on data about legal, political, and social environments. In this Review, we suggest that the biometrics approach is not currently likely to be appropriate in many jurisdictions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e51-e59
JournalThe Lancet HIV
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Immunology
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Virology

Cite this