More than 400 million EU Citizens and residents to be fingerprinted

By EDRi · December 14, 2004

The European Union’s Council of Ministers has decided, during its meeting yesterday, Monday, 13 December, to treat 400 million EU subjects like criminals.

By the beginning of 2008, every EU citizen and resident – with the exception of people living on the British isles and possibly in Denmark – will be fingerprinted when applying for a passport or other travel document. This procedure will be introduced in addition to digitalised facial photographs, which will be taken of every applicant already by the middle of 2006.

The data will be stored on emmbedded chips in the documents. These so-called RFID chips can be read out remotely, and there is so far no reliable way of securing the information contained on them. The project to establish a database holding holding the biometric data of all EU citizens to whom a document containing a biometrics chip has been issued was dropped.

Andreas Dietl, EU Affairs Director of the international privacy and civil rights organisation European Digital Rights, comments:

It is good to hear that the EU Council of Ministers has heeded the concerns of privacy advocates and let go of its plans to establish a gigantic database of EU citizens’ and residents biometric data. Still, this proposal remains more than problematic. The Governments of the EU Member States are trading their citizens’ fundamental right to privacy in for a promise of security that will not live up to expectations. Biometrics technologies based on face scans, like the one that the EU plans to introduce in a year and a half, still have gigantic failure rates, and the social effects of their introduction have not been discussed at all. The RFID chips that will be embedded on EU passports are insecure; they can be read out by criminals, which will set off a wave of high-tech identity theft.

By blackmailing the European Parliament into passing this proposal without due time for debate, the Council has exploited the democratic deficits of the EU to the extreme. This anti-democratic procedure was worthy of a law that disrespects EU citizen’s privacy.

Additional information:

Council Regulation on standards for security features and biometrics in passports and travel documents issued by Member States

Privacy International, Statewatch and EDRI: Open Letter to the European Parliament on Biometric Registration of all EU Citizens and Residents