Biometrics: EU Council wants to fingerprint every EU citizen

By EDRi · October 25, 2004

The European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) will vote today in Strasbourg on two important reports on the introduction of biometric identifiers in EU travel documents. Both reports – on “Visas, residence permits: uniform format, photo, biometric identification” and on “Biometrics in EU citizens’ passports” are shepherded by MEP Carlos Coelho, a member of the Conservative Group from Portugal.

But even while the Parliament is preparing to vote on the report, the European Council is dealing with a proposal that would make the Parliament’s vote void, requiring all Member States to take fingerprints off all of their citizens applying for EU travel documents. The European Union’s Justice and Home Affairs Ministers, who are meeting today in Luxembourg, are even discussing an extremist proposal from Britain and Germany to introduce iris scans as a third identifier that Member States may introduce if they chose to do so.

The biometric data will be stored on a so-called RFID chip that is embedded in the travel documents and can be read out remotely. So far there is no practical method to prevent the personal data contained on this chip from being copied by criminals and manipulated for identity theft. This can be done without the holder of the document being aware of it, even over small distances. The Council Draft regulation fails to address this problem.

Andreas Dietl, EU Affairs Director of Privacy watchdog European Digital Rights, comments:

“The Member States show surprisingly little respect even for the opinion of the European Parliament, by taking a decision that will make the Parliament’s vote null and void on the very same day that the Parliament’s Committee is voting on biometrics. The proposal to treat all EU citizens and everyone travelling to the EU from abroad like criminals also show how little respect some Member States’ governments have for the privacy of their citizens, a principle that is one of the foundations of human dignity. These governments cannot be trusted to introduce this technology in a responsible way. We urge the Members of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee to reject all proposals for the introduction of biometric identifiers in whatever official documents: this technology will make documents not more secure, but more insecure, and it will lead to gigantic databases of EU citizen’s personal data.”

Draft Council Regulation on standards for security features and biometrics in passports and travel documents issued by Member States (doc no: 13490/04, 19.10.04)

Statewatch report “EU: Compulsory fingerprinting for all passports”

The Register: “Fingerprints to become compulsory for all EU passports”