Biometric technologies use unique biological or behavioral attributes such as DNA, fingerprints, cardiac signatures, voice or gait patterns, and facial or ocular measurements to identify individuals. With advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and Big Data analytics, their applications have expanded. As these technologies continue to mature, they have growing implications for congressional oversight, civil liberties, US defense authorizations and appropriations, military and intelligence concepts of operations, and the future of war. In the future, biometric technologies could be integrated into lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS), capable of selecting and engaging targets without manual human control or remote operation. These systems could potentially use biometric identifiers of pre-approved human targets to locate and engage in communications-degraded or -denied environments. While some argue that the use of biometric technologies could increase precision in targeting and improve adherence to international humanitarian law, others believe it is inherently unethical and could violate international humanitarian law. Currently, the United States is not known to be developing LAWS, but there is no prohibition on their development or the incorporation of biometric technologies into autonomous weapon systems. Both China and Russia have stated that they are developing these systems, which could include biometric features.
Biometric technologies could also be integrated into localized or national data collection and surveillance networks, like in China where national DNA databases and extensive video surveillance augmented by AI-enabled voice and facial recognition technology monitor and track individuals. These systems could be linked with private information such as medical, travel, and purchase history, leading to predictive policing and public safety according to the Chinese government, but also to censorship and social control according to some analysts. There have been reports that China has employed biometric surveillance to monitor ethnic minorities and detain them in “re-education” centers, although this application has not been uniform throughout the country. Biometric surveillance systems also hold implications for traditional military and intelligence operations.