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Revealing figures about look-alike fraud with Dutch travel documents

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Thanks to a FOIA-request by the Privacy First Foundation, the official figures about look-alike fraud with Dutch passports and ID-cards have today, for the first time, become public. From these figures it emerges that the Dutch biometric passport with fingerprints is an absolutely disproportionate measure, the introduction of which should never have been allowed.

The primary argument from the Dutch government for introducing fingerprints in passports and ID-cards has for years been the same: fighting look-alike fraud. Look-alike fraud is a form of abuse whereby someone uses an authentic travel document of someone else to whom his appearance resembles. This kind of swindler is also called an impostor. Questions about the scale of this type of fraud have hardly ever been asked, not by members of Dutch Parliament, nor by scientists or journalists. Those who raised a question about it in the last ten years were usually provided with an answer that left them none the wiser: figures about look-alike fraud would be ‘unknown’, ‘not publicly available’, ‘confidential’, or ‘secret’. The answer to the most recent parliamentary question in this respect dates back to October 2010:

- Question: ‘‘Is it true that the figures of look-alike fraud with ID documents are known, but that you are unwilling to provide them to the House of Representatives? Are you actually prepared to provide these figures to the House of Representatives?’’
- Answer by Dutch State Secretary Ank Bijleveld (Ministry of the Interior): ‘‘No, this is not true. Since such figures are unknown to me, it’s obvious I cannot send them to you.’’ (Dutch source)

Those who have been asking supplementary questions in recent years were often told we would be facing a massive phenomenon. In this way the idea of a 'dark figure' of crime of almost mythical proportions came into existence. That is to say, without any trace of evidence. So recently the Privacy First Foundation filed a FOIA-request to the department of the Dutch government that has been keeping track of the figures on look-alike fraud for years: the Dutch Expertise Centre on Identity fraud and Documents (Expertisecentrum Identiteitsfraude & Documenten, ECID) based at Schiphol Airport. The ECID falls under the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee (KMar) and is thus part of the Dutch Ministry of Defence. Privacy First knew from a reliable source that those figures could be found in the clear annual reports of the ECID from 2008 onwards. So recently we have simply made a request for those reports by email. Subsequently Privacy First received the Statistic Annual Overviews on Document Fraud (Statistische Jaaroverzichten Documentfraude) from 2008 to 2010 from the Ministry of Defence. (Update: the statistics from 2011 followed on 29 May 2012.) The following figures result from these annual reports relating to look-alike fraud with Dutch passports and ID-cards on Dutch soil:   

2008: 46 cases (source: Statistisch Jaaroverzicht Documentfraude 2008, p. 45)

2009: 33 cases (source: Statistisch Jaaroverzicht Documentfraude 2009, pp. 42-43)

2010: 21 cases (source: Statistisch Jaaroverzicht Documentfraude 2010, pp. 52-53)

2011: 19 cases (source: Statistisch Jaaroverzicht Documentfraude 2011, pp. 52-53).

The Netherlands has 17 million inhabitants. By now almost 7.5 million of those had their fingerprints taken to combat a handful of cases of look-alike fraud. By any standard this is a completely disproportionate situation and thereby forms a collective violation of the right to privacy of all Dutch citizens. Privacy First regards these figures as a strong backing in its lawsuit against the Dutch government regarding the new Dutch Passport Act and hereby makes a call to the government to immediately stop the compulsory taking of fingerprints for passports and ID-cards. Regardless of whether or not that’s against European policy.

Update 22 March 2012: At first Privacy First showed the numbers 63 (2009) and 52 (2010). However, those figures were based on a calculating error (they were counted twice), for which we apologise.  

Update 30 March 2012: internal documents from the Dutch Ministry of the Interior from 2004 also imply a relatively low figure for fraud and, moreover, high costs for introducing biometric technology in travel documents. Privacy First recently obtained these documents through a large-scale FOIA investigation that has been ongoing since April 2011.

Update 29 May 2012: Today Privacy First finally received the long-awaited Statistisch Jaaroverzicht Documentfraude 2011 from the Dutch Ministry of Defence. The number of cases of look-alike fraud with Dutch passports and ID-cards on Dutch soil (as far as the KMar is aware) according to this report were respectively... 11 and 8, so just 19 in total. We have updated the list of cases from 2008 to 2010 above with the figures from 2011. So the idea of look-alike fraud as a very small-scale phenomenon is once more confirmed. To burden the entire Dutch population with biometric passports and ID-cards as a countermeasure is and will be completely disproportionate and therefore unlawful.

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