CoE refuses to start investigation on biometrics

By EDRi · May 18, 2011

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Deutsch: [Europarat lehnt Biometrie-Untersuchung ab |]

In an answer to the 31 March 2011 petition calling the Council of Europe
(CoE) to start an in-depth survey under Article 52 of the European
Convention on Human Rights, Thorbjørn Jagland, the Secretary General of the
CoE refused to start an investigation on the collection and storage of
citizens’ biometric data by member states.

In his answer, Secretary General Jagland mainly points to the CoE
Resolution 1797, adopted in March 2011. He does stress the need to take
steps to ensure that relevant existing legal frameworks, including European
data protection Convention 108, be enhanced and modernised. However, the
Secretary General doesn’t explain his refusal to investigate the legality of
the current national biometric schemes. Instead, Mr. Jagland refers
to various other Council of Europe bodies, such as the Parliamentary
Assembly, the commissioner for Human Rights and the Consultative Committee
of Convention 108.

In a first reaction to the response from Strasbourg, an alliance
spokesperson said: “The lack of protection of citizens rights against
government use of biometrics is stunning. Moreover, the digital fingerscan
technique itself is immature. For example a government test in the
Netherlands, published after our petition, showed biometric verification
failure rates of 21%. A test by the mayor of the city of Roermond revealed
that for no less than one in every five persons collecting travel documents,
the initial fingerprint scan had been so bad that it wasn’t verifiable. So
how can you ever reach the goals of the Passport Laws by storing these on
the document chip? This confirms once again that an in-depth survey has to
be conducted soon on whether the human rights guarantees and conditions of
necessity (effectiveness, proportionality, subsidiarity and safety
guarantees) set by the European Convention on Human Rights and the data
protection Convention are indeed upheld in the countries involved.”

The more than 80 petition signatories from 27 countries, including EDRi,
include – among others – digital, civil and human rights defenders, media,
legal and medical organisations, academia, politicians and personal victims
without a passport because of objections involving the biometric storage.

Petition to Council of Europe on government use of citizens biometrics
(updated on 12.05.2011)

Answer of Council of Europe (29.04.2011)

EDRi-gram: NGOs ask CoE to investigate government collection of biometrics