EU: Resident third country nationals - biometric residence permits


The Council of the European Union (the 27 governments) are currently discussing the format and use of residence permits for the 17 million plus people with the right to reside in the EU.

A "modified" proposal (COM 110, 2006) to amend the underlying Regulation (1030/2002) from the Commission is now being discussed in the Council's Visa Working Party and the "technical" Article 6 Committee.

The proposal is for a "stand-alone" document, that is, not the current "sticker" in a passport. The document (or rather plastic card) would have a "contactless" chip containing the person's biometrics, that is, a "facial image" (a digitised copy of the standard passport-like photo) and two fingerprints.

In addition, at the request of member states, the document can also contain a "contact chip" for so-called "e-services such as e-government and e-business" (which could include benefits, access to doctors and hospitals, health record etc).

Thus the document would have two "chips", one "contactless chip" with biometrics and one "contact chip" for "e-services".

One of the question put to the "technical" Article 6 Committee back in September 2006 ((EU doc no: 12893/06) was whether these two "chips" would "clash" (as was belatedly found to happen with the idea of "chipped" visas in "chipped" passports.

In December 2006 the Article 6 Committee reported back that "there would be no interference between a contact chip and a contactless chip".

Age limits

Like with the discussion over visas the Visa Working Party took up the age at which children should be fingerprinted for residence permits.

At its meeting on 2-3 October Austria, Germany and Finland supported allowing the taking of fingerprints from the age of 6 years old and making this compulsory from the age of 12. The UK, Portugal and France accepted a mandatory age (eg: 12) but not a mandatory lower age limit.

The Visa Working Party meeting on 6 December 2006 returned to the issue. Germany wondered whether infants should be exempted from providing a photo, a view rejected by the UK. The UK wants an age limit of 5 years old for the taking of fingerprints - which is its current practice. The Commission observed that:

"the reliability of fingerprints is only acceptable for children above 12 years old"

European Data Protection Supervisor's Opinion

In October 2005 the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) issued an Opinion on the residence permit proposal in which he is keen to emphasise the residence permits should not be regarded as travel documents (though it would be used as an ID card in the Schengen area).

The EDPS notes that the use of fingerprints requires very high security standards and that:

"up to 5% of people are estimated not to be able to enrol (because they have no readable fingerprints or no fingerprints at all"

Concern is expressed over the failure of the Commission's proposal to "clearly identify and define those authorities which have access to the data stored". This is all the more regrettable as the additional national "contactless chip" will be accessible by equally undefined authorities.

The EDPS "strongly recommends" that the "purposes" and a list of data to be stored for the second national chip should be included in the measure.

Conclusion

It is not at all clear how the "chips" are going to be checked. The Commission argues that the biometric data will only be checked "one-to-one" and not "one-to-many" (ie: on a central database). There may yet not be a proposal for an EU-wide database of resident third country nationals but each member states will be creating a national database - in 2001 only Germany and Luxembourg has national databases of those with residence permits.

By having two "chips" the residence permits will have many, largely undefined, purposes:

- it will be a residence permit

- treated as an ID card too

- control access and use of "e-government" services (ie: benefits, employment, education, health, driving licence etc)

- use by "e-business" (ie: debit/credit cards and their histories)

Sources

1. Modified proposal for a Regulation on Amending Regulation (EC) 1030/2002 laying down a uniform format for residence permits for third-country nationals (pdf)

2.
Council Regulation 1030/2002 of 13 June 2002 laying down a uniform format for residence permits for third-country nationals

3. Age limits for issuance of individual residence permits to children

4. Visa Working Party, Outcomes, 6 December 2006


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