EU: Europe's police and immigration "mobile identification" enthusiasts prepare to regroup during Irish Presidency of the EU

Support our work: become a Friend of Statewatch from as little as £1/€1 per month.

An informal working group that seeks to "bring together good practice and advice to member states in relation to developing and using mobile ID devices for police and immigration services" is preparing to regroup during late March with a meeting in Dublin, organised in association with the Irish Presidency of the EU.

The European Mobile Identification Interoperability Group (e-MOBidIG) emerged in 2008 following a conference organised by the EU's Joint Research Centre that saw "about 70 participants" from border control and law enforcement agencies gather to discuss "their views and experiences based upon initial trials on the use of mobile devices for identification and authentication of individuals," with the aim of "starting a discussion on mobile identification which would address important issues such as best practices in processes and procedures, technical standards, their evaluation in a pan-European harmonised way and interoperability among the different solutions available or adopted." [1]

Mobile identification devices are described by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology as a "portable biometric [e.g. fingerprint or iris] acquisition station in which captured samples are then compared against samples contained in a local or remote database." [2]

Invitation from the Irish government

Since its formation, the group has held nine meetings in various European countries including France, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK, and for its tenth meeting it will head to Ireland.

"Thanks to some helpful liaison by Denis Ferry, we are very grateful to the Garda and the Irish Government for offering to host a meeting of the working group during the Irish Presidency of the European Union… The date has not yet been finalised but will probably be in late March 2013," says a letter from the group's chairman, Frank Smith. [3]

Smith is a Deputy Director at the UK Border Agency dealing with "identity management and related issues." E-MOBidIG's website - which is unusually informative for an informal working group operating on the fringes of official working parties - is maintained by Cyril Murie of France's national agency for secure identification documents (L'Agence nationale des titres sécurisés).

According to a 2011 paper by staff at the Commission's Joint Research Centre, e-MOBidIG has five sub-groups: technical, legal, "procedures and processes", pilot projects, and testing and certification. [4]

Industry representatives - from firms such as Panasonic, Morpho and Sintel Italia - are also regularly invited to the group's meetings. At its last meeting in March 2012 in Heathrow, attendees saw a Fjutisu "presentation/discussion, including current work on UKBA mobile strategy," and a representative from Avalon Biometrics presented the firm's ID2GO mobile document reader. [5]

There was also a presentation by Matt Schneider, a representative of the US VISIT programme, with the title "US Mobile Strategy and examples."

Police, prints and pilot projects

Replies to a questionnaire presented at a March 2010 meeting of the group indicate that 8 EU Member States (of those that responded to the questionnaire) "are currently using or testing mobile ID devices," and that "6 member states use mobile ID devices for border control."

"Mobile devices are currently being used by member states for public order police, for criminal police and border police," said the report, while "10 member states are considering one or more pilot projects before the final acquisition process." [6]

EU countries currently making use of mobile biometric identification devices include the UK and the Netherlands. In July 2011 the UK announced the more widespread introduction of the devices (they have been in use since 2006), while the Netherlands launched a pilot project "as part of efforts to catch and deport illegal immigrants." [7]

A spokesperson for the UK's National Policing Improvement Agency told Statewatch at the time that: "there is no direct connection between UK Mobile ID and developments in the Netherlands, other than that both countries attend MOBIDIG meetings and discuss ongoing work in this area."

More recently, London's Metropolitan Police announced that they have introduced "about 350" of the devices across the capital, which check prints against records held on the UK's Police National Computer. The campaign group Netpol argues that "given the history of 'function creep' in police powers, the use of portable biometrics testing could pose a serious threat to civil rights… We would urge people who rae not 'reasonably suspected' of a criminal offence to refuse to comply with mobile fingerprinting." They have issued a guide on "your rights and mobile fingerprinting." [8]

Tacit approval

Representatives of e-MOBidIG have sought the backing of working parties within the Council of the EU, but national delegations at these meetings have refused to respond to requests for the group to be awarded a more formal status.

The Police Cooperation Working Party was invited by the group in May 2010 to "note and support the aims and work of MOBIDIG; encourage cooperation with MOBIDIG by those with a relevant interest; consider the possibility of promoting further developments within its framework." [9] A subsequent meeting saw the chair of the group invite the Working Party to "consider the possibility of giving MOBIDIG the status of an expert group."

Despite these efforts, there is no indication that the invites have been accepted. The minutes of a Law Enforcement Working Party [LEWP] meeting in November 2010 state that "the incoming [Hungarian] Presidency was invited to consider the frequency of the reports of e-MOBidIG to the LEWP," [10] but as with the group's other suggestions concerning its status and reporting, there appears to have been no formal response.

Nevertheless, the group continued to present information to the Council, with its last noted appearance in July 2011 at a meeting of the Law Enforcement Working Party, where the chair of the group - Frank Smith, a Deputy Director at the UK Border Agency dealing with "identity management and related issues" [11] - presented a "progress report on mobile ID devices for police and immigration, underlining the importance of interoperability of these devices." [12]

As e-MOBidIG prepares for its 10th meeting, it will be basing its work on a re-drafted strategy paper from September 2012. This notes a multitude of potential uses for mobile identification devices: authentication of documents; fingerprint verification and database matching; biographic checks against central databases; capturing evidence; writing reports; and contributing to forensic crime scene analysis, amongst others.

"Participants in the e-MOBIDIG working group are clear that mobile solutions can make a valuable contribution to policing and immigration and border control but that sound principles need to be followed taking account of previous experience and lessons learned," says the strategy paper.

It goes on to say that "strategy on the use of mobile devices is decided at national rather than EU level," but that the group hopes to "help Member States in this task." [13]

[1] Antonia Rana & Alessandro Alessandroni, Mobile identification: From functional requirements, to testing for interoperability and security, Joint Research Centre, 2011
[2] Ibid.
[3] Frank Smith, e-MOBIDIG Update - October 2012, 12 October 2012
[4] Mobile identification: From functional requirements, to testing for interoperability and security
[5] 9th e-MOBIDIG Meeting, London Heathrow, 7-8 March 2012
[6] Mobile identification: From functional requirements, to testing for interoperability and security
[7] National Policing Improvement Agency, NPIA rolls-out new mobile fingerprint technology to the police service, 19 July 2011; Nationwide trials begin of mobile police fingerprint readers, Dutch News, 20 July 2011
[8] Your Rights and Mobile Fingerprinting, Netpol, 28 January 2012
[9] NOTE from: Portuguese delegation to: Police Cooperation Working Party, MOBile IDentification Interoperability Group (MOBIDIG), 5 May 2010
[10] Law Enforcement Working Party (Mixed Committee EU/Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein), Outcome of proceedings, 21 December 2010
[11] UK Border Agency, Response to Freedom of Information request, 14 November 2011
[12] Law Enforcement Working Party (including the meeting of radio communication experts and Mixed Committee EU/Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein), Outcome of proceedings, 1 July 2011
[13] e-MOBidIG, Strategy for Mobile ID, 10 September 2012

Our work is only possible with your support.
Become a Friend of Statewatch from as little as £1/€1 per month.


Spotted an error? If you've spotted a problem with this page, just click once to let us know.

Report error