Treated like criminals!

27.06.03 @ 09:57

  1. By Thomas Rupp

The European Commission is proposing to treat European citizens as criminals or at least as criminal suspects.

  • "Perhaps for a modern democracy it is more important to control its citizens than to be controlled by them? (Photo: Aurel Duta)

This could be the conclusion if you learn about the Commission's plans to put biometric data (fingerprints, iris scans or DNA) on a chip into the passports of all EU citizens. The heads of state, who met in Greece last week, already gave the "green light" to begin the process.

Somehow - obviously - I suffer from a clash of realities: Didn't a lot of people last year talk about "democratisation" of the European Union and making it more "citizen friendly"? - Right: this event was called the "Convention on the Future of Europe". Obviously the future of Europe now begins with the need of EU citizens to provide their most intimate data to the state.

Personal data protection

And assuming that the EU constitution will be adopted shortly, the citizens will give this intimate information to a state, which is about to get a "juristical personality". Instead of its "personality" we should much more discuss about its "character", because I am afraid, a personality without an ethical character could be a threat to democracy. Where are the voices of all those Convention members? Did anyone of them give a statement against the commissions proposal? Who of them will fight against it?

Oh... I forgot... their job is done: Luckily they put the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the draft constitution which states in Article 8 - Protection of personal data:

"1. Everyone has the right to the protection of personal data concerning him or her.

2. Such data must be processed fairly for specified purposes and on the basis of the consent of the person concerned or some other legitimate basis laid down by law..."

But can this article prevent the law from being passed - I mean practically? Does the Charter define, what are the criteria for an "other legitimate basis", does it define, how law has to be made in this respect and who shall control the procedure to guarantee that fundamental rights are in fact granted?

If the Charter does not provide a clear procedure how are people really protected? If it does not define sharp limits for any cutbacks of citizens' rights, it should be filed in the category of "bedtime-stories".

So I scratch my head...trying to think hard: Provided this law will pass and they ask me for my personal data... Shall I give my fingerprints - or even my DNA - to a growing state which does not fulfil the minimum standards of a modern democracy? Where there is no separation of powers? That has a parliament, which has no right to initiate law? Where - instead - non-elected public servants have the monopoly to initiate law, which in the end is decided by the executives of the member states - avoiding control by their national parliaments?

Democracy?

Perhaps I am too naïve, but somehow all this contradicts completely with what I was taught about democracy in school, and it also contradicts, what I would call my "natural feeling" about how it should be.

Am I too suspicious? Do I have to have more faith in the democracy I live in? Or do I have to be quite stupid to accept all that? Perhaps I am old-fashioned and a "modern" democracy does not need all that formal stuff anymore. Perhaps for a modern democracy it is more important to control its citizens than to be controlled by them?

But thinking about all that somehow feels like a déjà-vu! Suppose I refuse to give away my fingerprints? What would happen? Would I immediately be classified a criminal? Someone who has to hide something, with bad intentions? Would I have to go to jail? Would I have to leave the European Union?

Perhaps another claim of the preamble of the Charter of Fundamental Rights would protect me: "Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected." But somehow I am afraid, that de facto it won't.

Thomas Rupp is one of the coordinators of the European Referendum Campaign and is leading the Democracy International office in Frankfurt, Germany