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Irish passport card holders to be fingerprinted under new EU rules
9.1.19
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New EU rules on national identity cards and travel documents will "compel Ireland to introduce fingerprinting" of all holders of the Irish passport card, according to a document circulated by the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the EU (pdf).

Passport cards as identity cards

The passport card is available to all Irish citizens holding Irish passport books and can be used to travel "within the EU/EEA and Switzerland and is recognised as a valid travel document by relevant national authorities," according to the country's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Under a Regulation proposed by the European Commission in April 2018 on the security of identity cards and travel documents, all national identity cards in the EU will have to contain two fingerprints and a biometric photograph (alongside other data) and be issued in the ID-1 format, which is governed by International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) rules.

Ireland (along with the UK and Demark) has an opt-out from EU rules introduced in 2004 that require biometric fingerprints in passports, and the country "requested to specifically recognise in the Regulation passport cards as a passport and thus exclude them from the scope," says the Council document.

However, the Austrian Presidency and the vast majority of other Member States think otherwise:

"The Presidency is fully aware of the concerns of Ireland. However… Irish passport cards are issued in the ID card format (ID-1) and grant their bearers the right to exit and to enter another Member State similar to identity cards issued by other Member States. This means that despite their denomination, passport cards should fall within the scope of the Regulation."

Thus, all holders of Irish passport cards will have to be fingerprinted, if the Council and Commission's preferred rules are maintained following negotiations with the European Parliament. It is unclear whether this requirement will also extend to passport books. Despite repeated requests from Statewatch to the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for clarification on this point, there has been no response.

The Committee on Justice and Equality of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Ireland's parliament) examined the Commission's proposal on 30 May 2018, the month after it was published, and concluded that it did "not warrant further scrutiny".

At that time, however, it was not known that the proposal would oblige Ireland to introduce the fingerprinting of passport card holders.

The Commission included the fingerprinting requirement despite its own impact assessment concluding it was disproportionate and unnecessary. An analysis for Statewatch published in June 2018 argued against including fingerprints in national identity cards. Numerous MEPs and bodies such as the European Data Protection Supervisor and the Fundamental Rights Agency are also opposed.

Out of the loop

Exempting Ireland from the fingerprinting requirement would "create a security loophole," according to the Austrian Presidency, "which runs contrary to the objectives of the Regulation."

Under rules that came into force in April 2017, all EU citizens must be checked against law enforcement databases when crossing external borders, subjecting them to the same generalised suspicion as non-citizens.

The EU is also engaged in an ambitious and controversial effort to interconnect all its migration and law enforcement databases - the "interoperability" initiative - that will involve the creation of a centralised database at EU level of biometric and alphanumeric identity information.

According to the Austrian Presidency, including fingerprints in national identity cards - and in Ireland's case, the passport card - is crucial for those two projects:

"The effectiveness of [border] checks, as well as interoperability of EU information systems, depends on documents that meet uniform, minimum security standards and that can be used to establish a person's identity beyond doubt."

Ireland and 15 others

Ireland is not the only Member State that will be affected by the new fingerprinting rules for identity cards and travel documents, but its application there will be more controversial because the country does not technically issue identity cards and holders of passport cards and books do not currently have to be fingerprinted.

The European Parliament's position for negotiations with the Council supports optional fingerprinting, which would leave it to national governments to decide.

However, if the Regulation is agreed in the form preferred by the Council and the Commission, 16 Member States will have to introduce a new fingerprinting requirement: Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden.

If you are a journalist and would like to know more about this story, contact chris [at] statewatch.org or call 0203 691 5227.

Sources

NOTE from: Presidency to: Permanent Representatives Committee: Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on strengthening the security of identity cards of Union citizens and of residence documents issued to Union citizens and their family members exercising their right of free movement - Mandate for negotiations with the European Parliament (13462/18, 30 October 2018, pdf)

Houses of the Oireachtas, Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, Meeting of 30th May 2018 (pdf)

European Commission, Schengen Borders Code: Systematic checks of EU citizens crossing external Schengen borders mandatory as of today, 7 April 2017

Documentation

European Commission proposal and impact assessment (April 2018, pdfs)

Centre for Strategy and Evaluation Services (CSES), Study to Support the Preparation of an Impact Assessment on EU Policy Initiatives on Residence and Identity Documents to Facilitate the Exercise of the Right of Free Movement, August 2017

Further reading

Chris Jones, Fingerprints in identity cards: unnecessary and unjustified, Statewatch Analysis, June 2018 (pdf)

Biometrics in identity cards: the Member States want to fingerprint children, Statewatch News Online, 26 August 2018

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

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