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17th Jun 2019

Anti-racism campaigners slam Finnish colour-coded ID cards

European anti-racism campaigners have criticised moves by Finnish authorities to colour-code the country's ID cards, with bright blue cards for native-born citizens and brown cards for all foreign nationals, calling the new scheme "legalised ethnic profiling".

The scheme, to go into effect from 1 June, aims to make it easier for border guards and police to distinguish individuals. Colour-coding existed previously, with the two cards a light blue and light pink respectively, but, according to the National Police, it was not easy for authorities to make the distinction. Minors are also now to be given purple ID cards.

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While the blue cards used by adult Finns can also be employed as a travel document throughout the EU and Nordic countries instead of a passport, the brown, foreigner card may not.

Although within the EU identity cards meeting a European standard can also be used by European citizens as a travel document in place of a passport, the European Commission said on Tuesday that there is nothing it can do about the matter as the issuance of ID cards remains a national responsibility.

"We have no competence over ID cards. Anything to with passports, ID, how individuals are assessed to be citizens - it's all left up to the member states," EU justice spokesman Matthew Newman told EUobserver.

While ID cards are not mandatory in Finland, anti-racist NGOs say that the scheme could deliver "legalised ethnic profiling".

"Would blue be referring to the stereotypical eye colour of Finns and brown to the skin colour of foreigners? While there are so many colours available, such a choice definitely raises questions," Michael Privot, the director of the Brussels-based European Network Against Racism, a pan-European alliance of NGOs, told this website.

"More seriously, we question the argument put forward by the Finnish government with regard to the fact that different colour ID cards would ease control work," he continued.

"Would this be a subtle attempt to legalise ethnic profiling by transferring facial identification to ID card colour identification?"

ID cards are widely used for for other purposes, such as opening a bank account, age checks when buying tobacco or entering a nightclub.

"This will probably raise unexpected discrimination in other areas of life such as access to services: people will have to show their brown ID card when they might not want to make their foreigner status known," Privot said.

"Discrimination can also happen on the basis of your ID's colour and a simple glimpse at one's ID is often the starting point for unacceptable differential treatment."

As a result of the development, the group is calling for a complete EU-wide ban on "differentiating documents on the basis of legal status through the use of colour codes or any other implicit or symbolic means."

Ismo Parviainen, of the Finnish National Police Board, rejected the idea that there was anything untoward in the new scheme.

"This was part of the new card tendering and we wanted colours that were more distinct. We wanted to make the colours easier for police, to make it easier to remember and to distinguish what is not a travel document," he said.

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