30th Nov 2022

Brussels unveils plan to use fingerprints on EU passports

The European Commission on Thursday (29 June) unveiled technical details of a new type of biometric data to be used in EU citizens' passports.

Along with facial features that must be part of newly issued travel documents by late August, member states will be obliged to issue passports with two fingerprints by 2009.

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  • New passports will also contain fingerprints (Photo: Wikipedia)

Brussels points out that these data (fingerprints) are more sensitive and so decided to protect them by a more advanced system, with the EU set to be the very first bloc worldwide to apply this technology.

"This is a key step forward to render passports of EU citizens more secure and reliable," said justice commissioner Franco Frattini.

EU members agreed to introduce the electronic passports with biometric features in 2004.

Germany was the first EU country to issue this type of electronic passport in 2005 and German state secretary for the interior Peter Altmaier welcomed the commissions' initiative.

"With the electronic passport the citizens of Europe have an extremely secure document, which provides reliable protection against forgery and misuse and meets high data protection requirements," Mr Altmaier said.

US visa link

The electronic passport chip will include a digital passport photograph, name, date of birth, nationality and other information about the holder.

By meeting this requirement, the EU member states which are part of the US visa-free travel scheme will be allowed to remain in this scheme - which was also one of the key reasons for Europe to consider the new type of passports.

Only the old member states - except Greece but including Slovenia - belong to the visa-free regime, with the EU executive currently pressing for the same conditions for all the members, warning of retaliatory measures if the US does not change its stance.

Last year, Washington had to delay twice its deadline for western Europe to introduce biometric elements in the country's passports, with France and Italy remaining among the last to struggle with the introduction of digital passports.

The US will begin issuing biometric passports this summer.

Its requirement on visa-free countries will apply for all passports issued after October 26 - which is the latest deadline Washington approved.

Privacy concerns

But civil liberty groups hace voiced concern over the linking of biometric passport data to an EU-wide or even global database.

Air passengers could see their personal data end up in government hands while showing their passports at airports, they fear.

"We are increasingly concerned that the biometric travel document initiative is part and parcel of a larger surveillance infrastructure monitoring the movement of individuals globally," said a number of groups including Privacy International, The American Civil Liberties Union and Statewatch in a March 2004 statement.

EU starts collecting fingerprints for visa applications

The EU on Tuesday started collecting fingerprints of visa applicants in north African countries, as part of a new data base connecting all 25 countries that are part of the border-free Schengen zone.

Security trumps privacy, EU court says

Ensuring protection against the fraudulent use of passports outweighs personal privacy concerns about mandatory fingerprinting, the European Union's top court said Thursday.

Catalan spyware victims demand justice

Victims of the widening spyware scandal in Spain are demanding justice and reparations, following the revelations that journalists, lawyers, civil society and politicians had been targeted.

EU Commission to keep Hungary's EU funds in limbo

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