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MEPs make last-ditch attempt to halt mandatory fingerprinting of all ID holders
3.4.19
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Last-ditch amendments are being proposed by MEPs to try to prevent the mandatory fingerprinting of every national identity card holder in the EU and the potential construction of national fingerprint databases, before a final vote on a proposed new law in the European Parliament due this Thursday (4 April).

A Regulation proposed in April 2018 by the European Commission would introduce a requirement for all identity cards issued by EU governments to contain a biometric photo and two fingerprints of the holder, bringing standards for national identity cards into line with those for EU passports.

The text up for approval could also be used as a legal basis for national fingerprint databases, unless amendments (pdf) proposed by MEPs on behalf of the left-wing GUE/NGL and the Greens group, are accepted and approved by the Parliament on Thursday.

The amendments would make it optional for national governments to capture fingerprints, ensure officials taking biometrics are properly-qualified, and would prevent governments from using the identity cards Regulation as a legal basis for fingerprint or photo databases.

"To put it bluntly, I think they [national governments] simply want to create their own national databases of fingerprints of their citizens," Cornelia Ernst, a German MEP proposing the amendments for the GUE/NGL group, told Statewatch in an email. "It is part of a general trend for authorities in EU Member States to increase their control over us based on biometric identification."

The amendment attempting to prevent further use of biometric data collected for identity cards says that such data "shall not be stored in any, current or new, EU database and should not be further processed for purposes other than those set out in the Regulation."

The paper proposing the amendments explains that:

"following relevant recommendations of the [Fundamental Rights Agency] and the [European Data Protection Supervisor], the amendment aims to ensure that the biometrics collected under this Regulation are only to be used for its specific purposes excluding, thus, their possible use for other purposes, especially for future EU databases."

The explanation accompanying the proposed amendments regarding mandatory fingerprinting says that:

"For reasons relating to necessity and proportionality principles and by providing alternative efficient security features, Member States may not need to take the fingerprints of their citizens thus, the collection and storage of this biometric data should be optional and not mandatory."

The amendments also propose that only properly-qualified staff should be able to capture biometric identifiers required under the rules. This concerns an article in the proposed text which allows the capture of biometric data by non-qualified staff when "applications are submitted to the diplomatic and consular authorities of the Member State."

The proposal published by the Commission in April 2018 said that two fingerprints would be included in identity cards "to further increase effectiveness in terms of security".

However, the Commission's own impact assessment proposed that excluding mandatory fingerprinting would be "more efficient and proportional."

"In the end it is a political choice, not a necessity, to introduce fingerprints on ID cards," Ernst told Statewatch. "And it seems that the Commission and the Member States had taken that decision already."

Last month, Statewatch and four other NGOs sent an open letter to MEPs in the LIBE committee that called on them to reject the fingerprinting proposals, stating:

"We call on you to vote against this text to oppose the requirement that EU citizens be subjected to mandatory fingerprinting for national identity cards. This measure is a disproportionate breach of the rights to privacy and data protection and must be rejected."

The vote in the LIBE committee subsequently passed by 30 votes to 20.

In the plenary session on Thursday the Parliament will have to vote in favour of taking votes on any proposed amendments - a procedure that in mid-March led to the 'accidental' adoption of the Copyright Directive when a number of MEPs "pressed a wrong button when deciding how the vote should proceed."

All MEPs can be contacted via the European Parliament webpage.

Background

Open letter to MEPs: oppose mandatory fingerprinting for national identity cards (March 2019)

Analysis: Fingerprints in identity cards: who will oppose an unjustified and unnecessary proposal? (November 2018, pdf)

Press release: EU plans to include fingerprints in identity cards are unjustified and unnecessary (11 June 2018) and Analysis: Fingerprints in identity cards: unnecessary and unjustified (June 2018, pdf)

This article was corrected on 4 April to take into account that MEPs from both the GUE/NGL and Greens group proposed amendments to the Regulation.

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