EU governments want 2 biometric identifiers for every citizen

By EDRi · November 3, 2004

On 25 October 2004 Members of the Europarliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) voted on a proposal from the Council of Ministers to include a biometric identifier in EU passports and visas of travellers with EU destinations. While the MEPs were discussing the technical implications and privacy guarantees, behind their back the Council replaced the proposal by a more extreme proposal to include 2 biometric identifiers, instead of just one.

According to the new Council proposal, member states have to include digitalised fingerprints and a face scan on the RFID chip embedded in the travel documents. Face scans will have to be included in travel documents 18 months after the Council regulations enter into force (Germany will already start issuing biometric passports at the end of 2005), fingerprints will follow 18 months later.

Fingerprints as an additional identifier will subject 450 million EU citizens to a procedure presently reserved for crime suspects. The initiative for the proposal was taken by Germany, Greece, France, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Spain. It was opposed only by Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Sweden, while Germany and the United Kingdom are said to back an even more extreme proposal that would require iris scans as a third biometric identifier in travel documents.

The new proposal is likely to be voted in the European Parliament early next year, but it is in the so-called consultation procedure, which means the Council can almost ignore the Parliament’s vote. In the 25 October vote, the LIBE Committee has taken a ‘moderate’ position, voting in favour of all the amendments by Rapporteur Carlos Coelho, a Portuguese Conservative specialising in the EU’s border regime. Coelho calls for a proportionate approach to biometrics, without calling for a moratorium on the technology. In an expert meeting on 6 October, the LIBE MEPs were advised to do so, because of the many privacy threats and unforeseeable social consequences of a large-scale introduction.

Draft Council Regulation on standards for security features and biometrics in passports and travel documents issued by Member States (19.10.04)

Draft report by Carlos Coelho on the proposal for a Council Regulation on standards for security features and biometrics in EU citizens’ passports (30.09.2004)

Statewatch report, ‘EU: Compulsory fingerprinting for all passports’ (26.10.2004)

EDRI-gram 2.19 ‘Biometrics experts sceptical about quick introduction’ (06.10.2004)

(Contribution by Andreas Dietl, EDRI EU Affairs Director)