Congress seeks to better understand the processing of sensitive personal data

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Happy Friday. We wish you a good long weekend and a beautiful 4th of July. We won’t send you this newsletter on Tuesday, but we’ll be back in your inboxes on Friday next week. (If you want some recommended reading in the meantime, I have 20,000 words for you.)

Biometrics and Privacy Review

This week I went to the annual International Religious Freedom Summit and heard from people of all kinds of faiths and backgrounds talking about persecution around the world and how human rights defenders can fight back.

This year’s summit, as usual, focused on a wide range of topics, countries and religious groups. China was prominent in the ongoing genocide of predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups in the northwest region of Xinjiang, the crackdown in Tibet, the crackdown on freedom in Hong Kong, and the targeting of Christians, Falun Gong practitioners and other religious groups.

China’s extensive surveillance network is at the root of these human rights abuses. Privacy has always been essential to guarantee religious freedom and freedom of expression. People should be able to talk to each other, practice their religion and move freely in their homes and towns without being intimidated by government officials. In China, this has long been far from reality: the Chinese government has imposed one of the most extensive surveillance regimes in the world, not just in Xinjiang and Tibet, but also in the rest of the country.

As technology has advanced, other oppressive regimes have also jumped at the chance to easily monitor journalists, political dissidents and religious minorities. This comes in many forms—Software to rummage through smartphones, cameras with better definition to track comings and goings, artificial intelligence to identify faces. China took it to the extreme, by force DNA collection of Uyghurs and other minority groups en masse to automate the identification of members of these ethnicities.

I mention all of this at the beginning of today’s bulletin to frame a discussion that can sometimes become abstract. How issues of privacy, surveillance technology, and new developments in biometrics play out in real life, for real people facing tyranny, often gets lost in the weeds of theoretical research and various political proposals.

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