French NGOs: no consensus possible on biometric ID-card

By EDRi · June 29, 2005

A coalition of 6 French organisations against the French biometric card
project INES (among them EDRI-member IRIS, see EDRI-gram 3.11) remains
convinced that ‘no consensus is possible’ to accept the project if
modified according to the suggestions made by the Internet Rights Forum
(‘Forum des droits sur l’Internet’ or FDI, a private association mainly
funded by the French government.) The Forum was asked to organise a public
debate about the project. The results were published on 16 June 2005 and
presented to the French ministry of Interior.

The FDI organised both online and off-line debates between February and
May 2005. Public meetings were held in 6 main French towns, and the online
forum collected over 3000 messages from 683 unique contributors. In
addition, a poll was conducted amongst a representative sample of 950

Although the poll showed that 74% of the respondents are in favour of the
INES project, 75% in favour of a national fingerprint database and 63% in
favour of making the biometric ID card mandatory, the online and off-line
debates also produced strongly argumented criticisms of the INES project.

As a follow-up, the FDI report calls for a number of actions and
modifications: better studies on identity fraud; the de-coupling of the
project from the passport system; studies on the risks of using a single
identifier; shifting responsibility for the project to the data protection
authority; the creation of a new social contract between the citizen and
the state; studies on the contact-less nature of the chip; a clear
statement from the Government on whether the card will be required for
commercial transactions; assurances that the card will be free at
enrolment (though individuals could be charged for renewal or loss); and a
clear Parliamentary debate on the obligatory nature of the card.

The dangers highlighted by the report confirm the earlier fears and
warnings of the NGO coalition. However, the report fails to address the
main issue with a biometric ID card; the profound change in the relation
of power between the citizen and the state, as noted by the French NGO
coalition in a press release published on 20 June 2005.

The coalition remains convinced that the project should be withdrawn and
that a truly large public debate should be opened. A petition calling for
such a debate has already been signed by 1500 organisations and
individuals within 1 month, among them members of the French Parliament.

“The social contract remains founded on the presumption of mutual trust
and on the preservation of everyone’s freedoms”, the coalition reminded,
rejecting the FDI proposal of a so-called ‘social contract’ where the
citizen may obtain ‘online, free and permanent access to his
administrative files’ in compensation of ‘an increased control of his
individual identity and identity documents’ by the State.

It is likely that the project implementation, or even discussion by the
Parliament, will be postponed. The new French Interior minister declared
in a public meeting on 20 June that the project “will profoundly impact
the daily life of French citizens for a long time. If European provisions
impose us to quickly set up a biometric passport, the situation is
different for the electronic ID card. I don’t want us to engage in this
project without having taken the necessary time to think about all its
consequences.” Indeed, rumours indicate that the draft law has been
withdrawn from the French Data Protection Authority, which is now waiting
for the new version. But there is no sign that the new project will show
more than minor changes: “the question is not to discard evolutions which,
for some, are necessary, but rather to identify where we want to go, at
which conditions, and at which price”, the Interior minister added.

French NGO coalition press release (in French, 20.06.2005)

French Interior minister public declarations (in French, 20.06.2005)

FDI report on the French biometric ID card debate (in French, 16.06.2005)

English overview of the project and the debate:
LSE Report, Chapter 7, France section, pp.66-70 (27.06.2005)

EDRI-gram 3.11, French campaign against biometric ID card (02.06.2005)

(Contribution by Meryem Marzouki, EDRI-member IRIS)