EU: Report on biometrics dodges the real issues
01 March 2005
- report: "puts economics and profit above liberties and privacy"
A report from the EU's Joint Research Centre on the use of biometrics takes what can only be termed a technologically determinist view, namely that:
"It is our view that the implementation of biometric technologies by governments is both inevitable and necessary, and that the criticisms, issues and challenges raised must be addressed as part of the implementation process."
Thus the widespread use of biometrics is seen as inevitable and that there is a strong economic argument for the EU to get into this field quickly:
"fully consistent with the Lisbon goals, ensuring that Europe reaps the benefits of governmental initiatives in this important area... [and] Europe can benefit from the large-scale deployment of biometric technologies."
"The large-scale introduction of biometric passports in Europe provides Member States with a unique opportunity to ensure that these have a positive impact, and that they enable the creation a vibrant European industry sector. Two conditions would appear to be necessary for this to happen. Firstly, the creation of a demand market based on wide user acceptance, by clearly setting out the purpose and providing appropriate safeguards for privacy and data protection. Secondly, the fostering of a competitive supply market for biometrics. This is unlikely to emerge by itself and will need kick-starting by governments – in their role as launch customers, not as regulators."
EU governments are doing just that with the planned introduction of biometric passports, visas and residence permits (requiring the compulsory finger-printing of all). The 166-page report's central argument is that through what it calls the "diffusion effect":
"It is expected that once the public becomes accustomed to using biometrics at the borders, their use in commercial applications will follow."
There is a fleeting reference to the European Parliament's rejection of biometric passports in April 2004 and its acceptance on 2 December 2004 - there is no mention of the fact that the parliament was "blackmailed" into this decision. See: EU governments blackmail the European Parliament into a quick adoption of biometric passports
There is no recognition in the main report that the use of biometrics is being driven by security demands for wholesale sureillance as part of the "war on terrorism". The report does contain two "brief summaries", five and three-and-a-half pages respectively, from two highly critical external contributors who express grave reservations:
"The provisions of national data protection acts become meaningless when data crosses national borders. Furthermore, the ability of the individual to challenge incorrect assumptions with respect to their own data is highly questionable – assuming that they even have knowledge of such a situation."
"It may be true that, in the short term, citizens simply go with the flow and accept what many of them will see as the sacrifice of personal freedoms in order to support policies which, they have been lead to believe, will create a more secure world. However, in the medium and longer terms, the reality of the situation (such as it may be) may become self evident and, depending upon popular perception, this may lead to an erosion of trust which will not be in the interest of government. This is a very serious issue which should be taken fully into consideration with respect to current aspirations. We should be in no doubt that we are tampering with the very fabric of society and should treat this fabric with the care and respect it deserves."
"The deployment of biometrics by public and private actors raises numerous concerns that are not or not adequately addressed by the current h