Alliance raises concerns about spread of biometrics (12 Apr 2011)

An international alliance of organisations and individuals from 27 countries has lodged a petition calling on the Council of Europe to start an indepth survey on the collection and storage of biometric data by member states.

European governments are increasingly demanding storage of biometric data (fingerprints and facial scans) from individuals. These include storage on contactless 'RFID' chips in passports and/or ID cards. Some are going even further by implementing database storage e.g. France, Lithuania and the Netherlands.

The alliance of more than 80 signatories has asked Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland of the Council of Europe to urgently request the countries involved to explain under Article 52 ECHR whether their national law on this subject is in line with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.

In the petition to Strasbourg the alliance states: "It is vital to obtain an overview of the current ‘patchwork’ of different national laws that regulate this sensitive and important subject. An in-depth survey has to be conducted on whether the human rights guarantees and conditions of necessity (proportionality, subsidiarity and safety guarantees) set by the Convention are indeed upheld."

These rights include the protection of human treatment (Article 3 ECHR), safety (Article 5), a fair trial (the privilege against self-incrimination and presumption of innocence) (Article 6), physical integrity and family and private life (Article 8), effective national legal remedies (Article 13), non-discrimination (Article 14) and the right to leave your country (Article 2 Protocol 4).

"Article 52 clearly designates the Secretary General of the Council of Europe as the guardian of the fundamental rights placed at risk by this practice. We would like to emphasize that national biometric registration legislation (often in combination with other laws) should not 'lead to destroying democracy on the ground of defending it'", the alliance warns.

"In a democratic society the collection of the biometrics of an entire population is a disproportionate and for other reasons unnecessary interference with the right to privacy and other rights like the presumption of innocence, protected by the Convention. Because of these concerns the United Kingdom Government recently abandoned the policy of collecting fingerprints of citizens. Yet most countries are keen to fingerprint groups and populations of people who have committed no crime, thus increasing the chances of identity fraud", says Simon Davies of Privacy International, which co-ordinated the online petition initiative.

The signatories include among others digital, civil and human rights defenders, media, legal and medical organisations, academia, politicians and personal victims without a passport because of objections involving the biometric storage. The Working Group on Data Retention (AK Vorrat) has signed the petition as well.

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