Statewatch News Online: Greens/EFA press release on biometric passports

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Bruxelles/Brussel, 02 December 2004

Biometric passports

MEPs concerned at new 'security' features

Euro-MPs from the Greens/European Free Alliance Group have expressed serious concerns about today's European Parliament support for plans to include biometric facial and fingerprint data on new EU passports. The MEPs are concerned that the new plans could infringe upon people's right to privacy without bringing any real improvement in security.

The new measures were put forward by the European Commission in response to US demands for passports with readable biometric data. But the plans go further than original demands, and now provide for the incorporation of a chip into European passports storing not only facial images but also fingerprint data.

Greens/EFA Group member of the Civil Liberties Committee, Tatjana Zdanoka MEP (Latvia) highlighted the concerns during a debate in parliament. Speaking in Brussels, she said:

"Today's vote sets a very worrying precedent and raises serious concerns amongst those of us who do not want to see 'security concerns' or the 'war on terror' used erroneously to erode civil rights. These proposals are flawed and are thoroughly lacking both in preparation and practicality."

"Our group believes that the Commission's proposal for two biometric identifiers in EU passports has not been justified on a number of fundamental levels, including cost and the real added value in security that the new features would offer. And we are still waiting to hear clarification from the Commission on how the proposed measures will cope with false or fraudulent documents and misuse of the system."

"Introducing two biometric identifiers will have a major impact on civil rights and could, ironically, represent a threat to security in itself through risks of abuse, technological flaws and lack of transparency and data protection. These measures have been rushed through without first having been thought through. The Commission should now take the time to review the scope and nature of these proposals."

Dutch Green member of the Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee Kathalijne Buitenweg added:

"My concern is that European Governments have brought forward these proposals based on fear and prejudice rather than good sense. It has not yet been proven that the introduction of biometric identifiers really does increase security. Before proceeding with this development it should have been incumbent on the Commission to prove that there was no other way to increase document security. They have clearly failed to do so."

"There is a clear imbalance in this proposal between legitimate security concerns and safeguards on personal privacy and civil rights. In an Army Generals will always want the most expensive, top-of-the-range equipment but at the end of day it is down to politicians to make the decisions. This is as it should be in a democracy. In this case, not nearly enough time has been spent thinking through these proposals and as a result, civil liberties are at risk."

Note to editors:

the Parliament will also consider further Council and Commission plans for biometric data to be incorporated in EU visas and identity documents in the near future.

For further information, please contact:
Damian Connon, Press Officer, The Greens/EFA in the European Parliament, Tel: Brussels +32 2 2841667 / Strasburg +33 3 88174375
Mobile phone: +32-472 21 57 95 Fax: 0032 2 2844944

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