Rush vote European Parliament on biometrics
It is likely that the Council of European Justice and Home Affairs ministers will adopt a regulation tomorrow, on 3 December 2004, to fingerprint all EU citizens and residents, to take digital photographs of their faces and to store these data in a gigantic database of 450 million EU citizens. This will be the last step of a procedure that has exploited the democratic deficit of the European Union to an unheard extreme.
Today the European Parliament adopted the proposal but introduced a large number of limitations. MEPs voted to clearly limit the kinds of information to be stored on the passports, they voted against the storage of the data in a central database and in favour of giving Data Protection Authorities oversight over the whole process. But it is unlikely that the Council will take any of these amendments into consideration. Under the European Union’s consultation procedure the Council can globally reject all of the Parliament’s amendments. Though it is mandatory to at least look at the parliamentary suggestions, it will be almost impossible to do so in this case, since the Council plans to adopt its own plan tomorrow.
Members of the European Parliament were deeply angered by the Council’s sudden and belated change of the draft that the Parliament had to vote on. On 25 October 2004, while the Parliament’s LIBE (Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs) Committee was voting on its report on the biometric issues, the EU’s Justice and Home Affairs ministers met behind closed doors in Luxembourg. They decided to considerably change the document that LIBE was just voting on: Fingerprints were introduced as a second obligatory biometric identifier, and the data were to be stored in a central database. The draft Regulation adopted by the Council was transmitted to the Parliament only a month later, on 26 November 2004.
The Council then black-mailed the Parliament’s Conference of Presidents, the body taking decisions on the plenary agenda, to behave as if the proposal had not undergone any significant changes and to leave it on the agenda of the plenary session of 1 and 2 December. If the Presidents had refused, the Council threatened to delay the introduction of the co-decision procedure for immigration and asylum issues. In stead of giving parliament this important power on 1 January, it was to be delayed to 1 April 2005. And if Parliament had decided to refer the new proposal back to the LIBE committee, the Council announced it would just completely ignore Parliament, under some obscure procedure.
More than seventy civil society organisations from the EU and abroad, nine national or regional Data Protection Commissioners and more than two hundred concerned citizens have signed an open letter by Privacy International, Statewatch and European Digital Rights opposing this proposal. It seems, however, quite unlikely that the Justice and Home Affairs Ministers of the European Union will take the declared will of the EU Parliament or of Civil Society into account when introducing the obligation to fingerprint all their citizens and to store their data in a central database.
PI, Statewatch and EDRI Open Letter (30.11.2004)
EU governments blackmail European Parliament into quick adoption of its report on biometric passports (27.11.2004)
Council Draft regulation on biometric passports (23.11.04)
Parliament report on the Commission proposal for a Council regulation on standards for security features and biometrics in EU citizen’s passports, including voting list and all amendments (25.11.2004)
Provisional agenda for the meeting of the JHA Council (2-3.12.2004)
JHA Council press conference video stream (available after 2 December, 20:00, for one week)
(Contribution by Andreas Dietl, EDRI EU Affairs Director)