Commission defends inclusion of biometrics in EU passports
Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Antonio Vitorino today (2 March) defended proposals to include biometric data in EU passports, as concerns were voiced over the protection of personal data and the costs involved.
The Commission last month proposed the inclusion of digital facial images and possibly fingerprints on EU passports and also suggested the creation of a register containing the fingerprints and other "relevant data" of EU passport applicants.
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The EU also intends to introduce biometric data on visas and residence permits for non-EU citizens.
Mr Vitorino said that the inclusion of biometric data on EU passports will improve the accuracy of identification and make travel documents more secure against counterfeiting.
"Biometrics like any other technology is not dangerous in itself", he said on Tuesday morning in the European Parliament during a public hearing on biometrics. "Of course I recognise that it is the use you make of technology that might endanger fundamental rights".
Various speakers raised concerns about the protection of personal data and who would have access to this information.
"The current proposals on the use of biometrics could be a step towards systematic and centralised storage of sensitive personal data, which would be like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut", said Danish Liberal MEP Ole Sorensen, who is drafting a report on this issue.
"We need to know who will have access to this data and what for", Liberal leader in the European Parliament Graham Watson said. "Striking the right balance with biometrics means making sure that we do not purchase a little bit of safety at what we later learn is an unacceptable price in freedom".
Tony Bunyan editor of the Civil Liberties watchdog Statewatch also mirrored these concerns. He stressed that people's rights should be protected and highlighted the risk of the creation of an EU-wide surveillance system.
US deadline looming
Mr Vitorino stressed that the EU is responding to the standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), and not US demands.
However the US-imposed deadline of October 2004 is looming, after which EU citizens would require a visa to travel to the US if they do not have biometric data on their passport.
This deadline is expected to be missed by various large countries such as Japan, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
The EU is holding talks with US officials on the issue. However, Marc Meznar from the US Mission in Brussels stressed that it will be up to the US Congress to rule on the question.