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Greffenstette Center Conference on Policies, Theologies, and Ethics of Biometric Technology

On November 4, 2021, the Duquesne University Grefenstette Center for Ethics in Science, Technology, and Law hosted an in-person and livestreamed symposium on the present and future ethics of biometric technology. The symposium featured four panels focusing on biometric technology research, corporate ethical responses, Catholic theological ethics, and biometric legal policies. Drs. Stephanie Schuckers and Arun Ross presented both an overview of the latest and great biometric tech as well as common misconceptions of the technology. Particularly illuminating in this session was the extended discussion of the positive benefits of this technology, such as creating an ID system for people throughout India, who aren’t able to carry around an ID card. Also discussed was using facial recognition to identify and locate immigrants, who also struggle with gaining proper identification as they work through the US system. This panel was moderated by Dr. Kathleen M. Carley, director of the IDeaS (Center for Informed Democracy & Social – cybersecurity) program at CMU.

The second discussion focused on the responsibilities and opportunities of corporations in light of biometric technologies such as face recognition and fingerprinting. Liz O’Sullivan and Reid Blackman offered illuminating reflections on issues of privacy, surveillance, security, and identity theft, analyzing the ways in which corporations may or may not be inspired to actually change or correct unethical practices. Questions of fault and culpability were raised, as well as questions of balancing privacy and security. This panel was moderated by Dr. Nathan Colaner, a fellow of the Grefenstette Center and a Founding Expert of AI & Faith.

The third panel included Drs. Andrea Vicini and Brianne Jacobs, who took the conversation in a decidedly Catholic turn, analyzing the ways in which Catholic theological ethics could interrogate and assist our way of understanding biometric technologies and ethical problems. Dr. Vicini outlined the historical benefit of Catholic Social Teaching in Catholic Theology, and how the basic tenets of this teaching could bring much fruit in discussions of facial recognition security. Dr. Jacobs discussed how Pope Francis’ vision of a technocratic paradigm can be helpful in understanding the pitfalls of trusting massive corporations like Google to handle and classify sensitive, personal information. This panel was moderated by Dr. Matthew Gaudet.

After discussing technology, ethics, and theology, the last panel of the symposium discussed policy. Both the panelists and moderator were lawyers with extensive experience in discussing and arguing for policies around biometric technology. Elizabeth Rowe of the University of Florida and Clare Garvie, from the Georgetown Center for Privacy and Technology spoke eloquently of the legal hurdles faced by both states and the federal government in terms of implementing effective technology policy around facial recognition. Possibilities for moving forward, such as local policies and corporate pressure, were discussed at length. This panel was moderated by Beth Schwanke, the executive director of the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Security.

The livestream of the conference can be seen on our website,

John Slattery

is the Directing Fellow for the Grefenstette Center for Ethics in Science, Technology and Law at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. He is also a Senior Program Associate with the Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, DC. He earned a B.S. in computer science from Georgetown University, a master’s degree in religious studies from Saint Paul School of Theology, and an interdisciplinary PhD in the history and philosophy of science and systematic theology from the University of Notre Dame. John's research focuses on interactions between Christianity and science, both historically and in modern times.

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