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EU: Biometrics and national ID cards back on the table
01 July 2006
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."
1. EU document 8943/1/06
2. EU doc no: 10540/06
filed 27 July 2006: EU proposals would allow the fingerprinting of children at birth as soon as it is technologically possible