28 March 2012
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EU states will be free to fingerprint children from day one of their life as soon as it is technologically possible
- "scanning of fingerprints: up to 12 years of age.. if provided for by national legislation... from 12 years of age: Compulsory" (EU doc no: 9403/1/06)
- "The decisions are being made in secret meetings
based on secret documents - people and parliaments are to have
no say in the decision"
When the EURODAC Regulation (adopted 2000) was being discussed there was a charged political debate about the minimum age for the children of refugees to be finger-printed. Some EU member states wanted 10-12 years old, while the European Parliament argued for between 16-18 years old. Back then the parliament merely presented an "opinion" and could be ignored. Although 14 years old was agreed by the Council of the European Union (the then 15 governments) the issue was contested and well-reported - and the decision was seen as a "political issue".
The Council is now discussing at what age the finger-prints of children can be compulsory taken for EU passports.
The issue will not be decided by parliaments - national or
European - but by a "comitology" committee meeting
in secret: this "Article 6" committee is composed of
representatives of the 25 governments and is chaired by the European
Commission. The "line" to be taken by the governments
is being discussed in Council Working Parties and the documents
(see below) are secret (see Footnote 1).
A report from the EU Council Presidency at the end of June (EU doc no: 9403/1/06) proposes that for EU passports:
1. The "scanning of the facial image" should be:
"0 to 12 years of age.. storage in the chip [to be] on the basis of national legislation [and] from 12 years of age: Compulsory". (emphasis in original)
The scanning and storage on a "chip" of a "facial image" meets the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) guidelines and is simply based on "digitising" the normal passport picture sent in by post - it is not a biometric and does not require the physical presence of the child.
The report notes "small children.. will not normally be suitable subjects for biometric face recognition by means of a photograph". Moreover, a study from the Netherlands (circulated in the Council) showed that:
"The facial changes taking place up to the age of 12 are so marked that face recognition is not possible without highly sophisticated software and the considerable expense which goes with it"
What the report fails to mention is that "digitised" facial images taken from passport photos only work on "one-to-one" checks and not "one-to-many" (ie: against a database of 25 million people).
2. The taking of finger-prints is a wholly different issue. Here the EU Council Presidency proposes that:
"Scanning of fingerprints up to 12 years of age.. is permissible if provided for by national legislation"
"From 12 years of age: compulsory" (emphasis in original)
And if any member states wants to set a lower limit, eg: 10, 8, 6 or 4 years, or 1 day, old they can do so and from 12 years old the compulsory taking of fingerprints from children.
This process will mean the taking of a unique biometric from children at an "enrolment centre".
The EU Presidency clinically comments:
"Scientific tests have confirmed that the papillary ridges on the fingers are not sufficiently developed to allow biometric capture and analysis until the age of six. Even then, account must be taken of the fact that major changes take place as children grow and this will entail considerable expense in the form of computer programs. When checks are carried out, the software must make allowance for age-related changes, or else no match will be possible."
and the Netherlands study of fingerprinting says:
"Children over the age of six do have measurable fingerprints, but these are subject to particularly marked changes as the child grows, with the result that special algorithms must be used in order to calculate the changes and arrive at a result which is as accurate as for an adult"
Prior to the EU Council Presidency Note (26 June) the issue was discussed at the meeting of the Visa Working Party (EU doc no: 10540/06). The UK delegation said that:
"storage of the facial image (at any age) in a chip represents a security feature even if it can not be used for facial recognition"
The German delegation said that the minimum age for the collection of "biometric data from German nationals for passports was 14 years according to national legislation". It also favoured a "differentiated approach":
"and wished to stick to 6 years for collecting biometric data from visa applicants"
[Note: EU nationals will have to give two finger-prints while visa applicants will have all ten taken]
The Netherlands said fingerprints "would not be collected before the age of 6" and Sweden "could agree with a minimum age of 6 years for passports". While the UK chipped in with the fact that it had collected fingerprints from the "age of 5" with no "significant problems" (see Footnote 2)
Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:
"All the discussions by EU governments in the Council about the age at which children should be subject to compulsory fingerprinting are based on the technological possibilities - not on the moral and political questions of whether it is right or desirable.
There will be special cases for the taking of fingerprints where a child is "at risk" in order to ensure their safety. But this does not in any way justify submitting all young children to this intrusive process.
The decisions are being made in secret meetings based on secret documents - people and parliaments are to have no say in the decision.
Under this proposal EU states will be free to fingerprint
children from day one of their life as soon as it is technologically
1. This Article 6 Committee was set up to decide on the "technical specifications" for visas. It then asked to look at documents for third country nationals in the EU, and then asked to look at EU passports, and then asked to look at EU ID cards.
2. Asylum toddlers get fingerprinted (BBC link). "Tests" carried out on the children of asylum-seekers under five years of age at detention centres in Croydon and Liverpool.
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