NGOs ask CoE to investigate government collection of biometrics

By EDRi · April 6, 2011

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Deutsch: [Allianz ersucht Europarat um Untersuchung der staatlichen Nutzung biometrischer Daten |]

An international alliance of organisations, including EDRi and several
EDRi-members, and individuals from 27 countries has lodged a petition
calling on the Council of Europe to start an in-depth survey on the
collection and storage of biometric data by member states.

European governments are increasingly demanding the storage of biometric
data (fingerprints and facial scans) from individuals. These include storage
on contactless “RFID” chips in passports and/or ID cards. Some are going
even further by implementing database storage e.g. France, Lithuania and the

The alliance of more than 80 signatories has asked Secretary General
Thorbjørn Jagland of the Council of Europe to urgently request the countries
involved to explain under Article 52 ECHR whether their national law on this
subject is in line with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and
rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.

In the petition to Strasbourg the alliance states: “It is vital to obtain an
overview of the current ‘patchwork’ of different national laws that regulate
this sensitive and important subject. An in-depth survey has to be conducted
on whether the human rights guarantees and conditions of necessity
(proportionality, subsidiarity and safety guarantees) set by the Convention
are indeed upheld.”

These rights include the protection of human treatment (Article 3 ECHR),
safety (Article 5), a fair trial (the privilege against self-incrimination
and presumption of innocence) (Article 6), physical integrity and family and
private life (Article 8), effective national legal remedies (Article 13),
non-discrimination (Article 14) and the right to leave your country (Article
2 Protocol 4).

“Article 52 clearly designates the Secretary General of the Council of
Europe as the guardian of the fundamental rights placed at risk by this
practice. We would like to emphasize that national biometric registration
legislation (often in combination with other laws) should not ‘lead to
destroying democracy on the ground of defending it'”, the alliance warns.

“In a democratic society the collection of the biometrics of an entire
population is a disproportionate and for other reasons unnecessary
interference with the right to privacy and other rights like the presumption
of innocence, protected by the Convention. Because of these concerns the
United Kingdom Government recently abandoned the policy of collecting
fingerprints of citizens. Yet most countries are keen to fingerprint groups
and populations of people who have committed no crime, thus increasing the
chances of identity fraud”, says Simon Davies of Privacy International,
which co-ordinated the online petition initiative.

The signatories include, amongst 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.

The press release in other languages: Dutch, French, German, Spanish,
Lithuanian and Slovak – for immediate publication (see bottom of the page)

Text of petition (with the list of signatories) (31.03.2011)

EDRi-gram: Final call for petition on government use of citizens’ biometrics

Highlights of the petition (6.04.2011)

(Thanks to the Alliance for providing this info)