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16th Oct 2021

France wants all travelling EU nationals fingerprinted

  • Fingerprints and facial recognition software awaits future travellers to the EU (Photo: EU's attempts)

French authorities are calling for EU-wide rules requiring travelling EU nationals to give their fingerprints and possibly also have their faces scanned.

The proposal, which is part of a much larger digital dragnet known as the ‘smart borders’ package, was discussed at an EU interior ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday (8 October).

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Smart borders is a two-tiered system of biometric scans of visiting non-EU nationals – the registered travellers programme (RTP) and the entry-exit system (EES).

First proposed by the European Commission in 2013, it was temporarily shelved following concerns over its billion-euro price tag and law enforcement access.

The Commission says the systems are needed to speed up travel times and detect people overstaying their visas.

It is now set to come up with an updated proposal before the end of year following an ongoing study and pilot project launched in February.

But an internal document dated 25 September from the French delegation in Brussels now wants to extend the same biometric system to cover member state citizens.

“The French delegation suggests broadening the scope of the ‘smart borders’ package for all travellers, also including European nationals”, it states.

It argues an expanded ‘smart borders’ is needed because of terrorist threats, migratory pressure, and greater passenger numbers.

Several stabbings and a beheading in France, along with the more recent bungled Thalys attack in Brussels has unsettled authorities.

In January, two French nationals also shot dead 11 people at the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

The internal document makes broad reference to the attacks.

It says they are a “chilling reminder of the threats posed by certain European nationals or people with the right of free movement upon their return from terrorist areas.”

Smart borders, along with the future roll out of the EU’s passenger name records (PNR), were key discussion points among interior ministers in Luxembourg on Thursday.

The PNR bill also aims to collect the details of anyone flying into or out of the EU. Lawmakers behind it say it has built-in safeguards to protect data.

But last year, the European Court of Justice struck down the EU’s data retention law. Judges said the directive was disproportionate because it allowed for the indiscriminate and mass collection of data from people not suspected of any crime.

The French delegation paper, for its part, runs in tandem with the launch of a controversial international electronic communications surveillance law in France.

Part of the law was adopted in July, but issues over international surveillance remained. French lawmakers are now set to adopt a second law later this month on international surveillance.

Critics say the French surveillance law mimics covert spying operations conducted by the US National Security Agency (NSA) in the lead-up to Edward Snowden's revelations in 2013.

It also gives French prime minister Manuel Valls new powers.

He can now instruct French agents to conduct surveillance in broadly defined areas such as “major foreign policy interests” and to protect its “economic, industrial and scientific interests”.

An oversight committee has been set up to make sure he does not abuse it. But it can only give non-binding recommendations.

“Under this new law, almost all internet communications will be considered fair game by the French authorities, without any form of meaningful checks and balance", said Amnesty International.

The Paris-based Internet campaign group La Quadrature Du Net says the law’s vague criteria are likely to “trigger mass data collection of logins and communications, without any regard to borders, or the target's nationality”.

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