EC wants to add facial recognition to transnational databases

By EDRi · May 18, 2016

On 4 May 2016, the European Commission (EC) published a proposal to recast the EURODAC Regulation. The European Automated Fingerprint Identification System (EURODAC) was initially introduced in 2003 to establish an EU asylum fingerprint database, and to share this information with national law enforcement authorities and Europol.

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According to this proposal, if a person applies for asylum anywhere within the EU, their fingerprints will be required, and transmitted to the central EURODAC system. The purpose is ostensibly to help identify irregularly third-country nationals or stateless persons. The regulation was amended in 2013, expanding its purpose from border control to general law enforcement, especially regarding terrorism and serious crime.

In addition to the fingerprints collected so far, the new recast proposed by the European Commission introduces a new feature, facial recognition. Additionally, it includes plans for longer storage periods, an expansion of data categories and comparison capabilities, and mandatory photographing. The Commission claims that the use of biometrics would facilitate the identification of asylum seekers, and therefore improve the effectiveness of the EU return policy. As Matthias Monroy, advisor to German Member of Parliament (MP) Andrej Hunko argues, the biometric data can be taken even against the will of the people concerned. This would also be applicable in the case of minors.

As EDRi member Statewatch states, there will be two different search options within the proposed system. One option is to compare the picture of a person with the available personal data of the individual when checks are conducted. This option is called “1:1 matching”. The second search option is to look for a face in the database, a process known as “1:n matching”.

The Commission envisages that Frontex, the European border management agency, and Europol, the European police cooperation agency, will have access to all the stored information in the EURODAC. Both agencies could conduct searches based on a facial image in the future. This will bring EURODAC in line with the other systems such as the Entry/Exit System. The proposal also allows for the information to be shared with third countries where it is necessary for return purposes.

In sum, the Commission is proposing to take surveillance measures in the attempt to gain full control over the movement of migrants through a facial recognition software and a database filled with the faces of millions of women, men and children. Are the costs of 30 million euros of this new system justified? Is the huge invasion of people’s privacy, freedom of movement justified? When such invasive tools are implemented and “normalised”, what are the chances that it won’t be rolled out more and more extensively?

European Commission’s proposal for a new Regulation on EURODAC (04.05.2016)

Facial recognition to accompany fingerprints in transnational databases (12.05.2016)

Report on the proposal on the website of Andrej Hunke, Die Linke, Germany (11.05.2016)

(Contribution by Claudius Determann, EDRi intern)