EU: Biometrics and national ID cards back on the table

Back in February (Commission to resurrect biometric ID cards?) Statewatch reported on doubts within the Council of the European Union (the 25 governments) about the legal basis for it to introduce biometrics (finger-prints into national ID cards). In addition two governments, Belgium and the Czech Republic, were opposed to the measures without a public debate. In a statement in December they said:

"the introduction of biometric data into national identity cards cannot be examined only from the technical angle. The question requires a wide-ranging debate, which includes the protection of the private life [privacy], budgetary and organisational aspects"

The draft Council Conclusions to which they objected are set out a document dated 25 November 2005 (EU doc no: 15000/05)

Months passed until the "Outcomes of Proceedings" of the Visa Working Party on 13-14 June 2006 agreed another approach (EU doc no: 10540/06) This is based on an "Annex" to a report to the Working Party from the Chair of the technical Article 6 Committee (see footnote) and replace the previous contentious Conclusions.

The "Outcomes" of the 13-14 June meeting record that the Council's Legal Service:

"confirmed that as there is no legal basis in the Treaty governing these issues, that could, indeed, be the way to take this matter forward!"

This is a euphemism for saying the Council has no legal powers to introduce "security standards" or biometrics for ID cards as this is a matter entirely a decision for individual member states. Council "Conclusions", as a method, are non-binding and do not have to be referred to national or European Parliaments before adoption - "Conclusions" are however used to legitimate measures taken at national level. When sufficient states follow the line standards can then be "harmonised".

The chair (the EU Presidency):

"concluded that the report set out in the annex to be above mentioned report [8943/1/06] could be turned into draft conclusions to be submitted to SCIFA at the earliest convenience"

The Annex in EU document 8943/1/06 is entitled "Minimum security standards for identity cards valid for travel issued by Member States". Pages 4-9 simply propose the security features for non-biometric ID cards. Only in the last paragraph on page 10 are biometrics referred to. It says that national ID cards - which are extensively used to travel inside the Schengen area - should "contain biometric identifiers" as set out in Council Regulation on "biometrics in passports", that is, the taking of two fingerprints.

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:

""This is no way to try to bring in such a far-reaching policy, one which will affect millions and millions of people. It is particularly objectionable that the Council is seeking to introduce biometrics (finger-prints) on national ID cards by means of Council Conclusions - again by-passing national and European parliamentary scrutiny, the views of civil society and public discussion."

Documents

1. EU document 8943/1/06
2. EU doc no: 10540/06

See also:
filed 27 July 2006: EU proposals would allow the fingerprinting of children at birth as soon as it is technologically possible



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