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23rd Jan 2022

Biometrics are not reliable, says EU data protecton expert

An EU data protection supervisor has criticised the use of biometrics as unique identifiers for European citizens, saying fingerprint or DNA identifications can be inaccurate.

"The accuracy of biometrics is overestimated", said Peter Hustinx, one of the European data protection supervisors said on Wednesday (15 March), according to computer magazine C.NET.

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Mr Hustinx leads an independent body that monitors EU data protection.

He says that recent proposals to interconnect important EU data bases - notably to identify suspects in the fight against terrorism - raises a number of questions in relation to data protection.

The data supervisor discourages the use of biometric data, such as fingerprints - or perhaps even DNA - as a unique identification key.

"It is regrettable that the protection of personal data has not been explored sufficiently as an inherent part of the improvement of the interoperability of relevant systems," said Mr Hustinx.

His comments come in response to a recent European Commission communication on the interoperability of various databases, including the Visa Information System (VIS) and the EU system for comparing of fingerprints of asylum applicants and illegal immigrants, Eurodac.

EU member states decided last year to introduce biometrics in passports, visas and residence permits – mainly due to US pressure on visa-free European states to issue biometric passports for security reasons.

The future spells biometric

A European Commission study on the impact of biometrics in society from last year shows that the technology is likely to become increasingly common in citizens’ daily life.

The scenarios portrayed by the study suggest that, by 2015, people will apply biometrics in their everyday lives as well as in business, health care and in security services such as border controls.

The study also envisages biometric entry systems at school cafeterias, and iris scanners to replace passwords for entry in data and other systems.

On the business side, companies could use a biometric access system to their premises and secure electronic payments enabled by a third party, while customers could use it to access shops.

Data protection campaigners have however raised concerns about biometric information falling into the wrong hands, while human rights organisations have spoken about the violation of privacy rules.

But supporters of biometrics say the new technique will protect against forgery, while making identity checks and border controls easier.

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