A broad international alliance of NGOs demands that there will be a European investigation into biometric data storage. Governments increasingly lay claim to people's biometric data (such as fingerprints), which are then stored on radio-frequency identification (RFID)-chips in passports and ID-cards. Some countries, such as the
The alliance of more than 60 organisations (including Privacy First) has urgently requested the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, Mr. Thorbjørn Jagland, to request the countries concerned for an explanation about whether or not their legislation on these matters complies with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as speedily as possible. The alliance is of the opinion that a thorough investigation is to be conducted on whether the guarantees and criteria of human rights with respect to the necessity, proportionality, subsidiarity and security guarantees that the ECHR demands for the use of biometrics, are in actual fact being adhered to. This is very much put in doubt by a recent report of the Council of Europe.
It is actually worth pointing out that the idea for the current European enrolment and storage of biometric data has partly come into existence in the Council of Europe itself, that is to say, at the behest of a few working groups that devoted themselves to combating terrorism around 2004. One of these working groups was the Group of Specialists on Identity and Terrorism (CJ-S-IT) which operated under Dutch chairmanship. In April 2004, this working group made the following recommendation:
"The creation or development of systems which allow identity checks with reference
Give consideration to and promote research and ongoing cooperation between police
Meanwhile, it is up to that very Council of Europe to map European national laws that since that time have lost their balance in this area. Where national laws do not respect human rights, the Member States in question are to be called to order. Privacy First looks forward with confidence to the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe carrying out these duties.
Rotterdam-Rijnmond police chief Frank Paauw is of the opinion that the DNA of all Dutch citizens should be compulsorily stored in a national database for the investigation of crime. He declared this in an interview in the paper of the regional political party Leefbaar Rotterdam ('Livable Rotterdam'). While according to police chief Paauw privacy is ‘‘a great asset’’, he thinks that massive storage of DNA can make the ‘‘world more secure’’.
In the paper of Leefbaar Rotterdam Paauw cites the 19th century French criminologist Alexandre Lacassagne who said that ‘‘every society gets the crime it deserves’’. For the Privacy First Foundation this includes privacy crime and we are eager to point to a more relevant quote by Benjamin Franklin: ‘‘Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.’’
Compulsory storage of the DNA of all Dutch citizens in a national database constitutes a collective human rights violation beforehand. The sheer disproportionate character of it already signifies a gross violation of the right to privacy and physical integrity of every Dutch citizen. Apart from the total lack of knowledge and respect for human rights that police chief Paauw expresses with his statements, this is also proof of an obsolete vision on society in which security and privacy have for years formed a false contradiction. Privacy is security: the personal security of the individual against a government that no longer trusts its own citizens and wishes to treat every Dutch citizen as a potential suspect. Privacy First wants to halt this development and move forward with a positive vision on society in which trust and freedom are basic values.
Update: Police chief Paauw gets no support for his plan whatsoever, neither from politics, nor from the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice. Dutch Minister Opstelten calls it ''disproportionate" and "beyond the pale''.
The Dutch resistance against the new Passport Act is currently reaching a climax along four lines of attack:
1) The civil Passport Trial by Privacy First. Currently, a verdict in this lawsuit by the district court of The Hague is planned for Wednesday 2 February 2011. Apart from a verdict on the merits of the trial, the district court could possibly decide to make a 'preliminary reference' to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
2) The administrative Passport trial by Louise van Luijk. The first court session in this lawsuit is planned for 15 February 2011, also before the district court of The Hague. Considering the factual and legal power of both these lawsuits, a win for both Privacy First as well as Louise is expected.
3) Increasing criticism against the new Passport Act from the Dutch House of Representatives. Last week this criticism reached a new high point through Members of Parliament Pierre Heijnen (Labor party PvdA) and Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert (Liberal party VVD).
4) Critical questions about the new Passport Act coming from the European Parliament. In response to these questions, the European Commission is beating about the bush as usual. At the same time it can’t be denied that with the new Passport Act the Netherlands becomes increasingly isolated in Europe. At the European level the last word on this subject has not yet been said.
One question remains: who will be the first to put his house in order in this Dutch passport drama? Will it be the judge or politics?
* UPDATE 1 February 2011 * At the European level the last word has indeed not yet been said: the European Commission launches a thorough enquiry into the legality of the Dutch Passport Act after all!
* UPDATE 2 February 2011 * The court district of The Hague has declared Privacy First and its co-plaintiffs inadmissable in our civil lawsuit. Privacy First is currently considering taking further legal action.
* UPDATE 3 February 2011 * Politics seems to be having the better of the judge(s): a majority in the House of Representatives turns its back to centralized storage of fingerprints!
* UPDATE 16 February 2011 * Privacy First will appeal against the court’s inadmissibility decision in the Passport Trial.
For a unique work of art there is no need to look any further than your own fingerprint. This is exactly what the Canadian art gallery DNA 11 realized. This gallery operates under the slogan: ‘From Life Comes Art’. Their newest product is a piece of real ‘art of life’: fingerprint paintings. Here you can have a work of art made from your own fingerprint. First you will be sent a starters kit on which you can leave your fingerprint. Then you send back the whole lot, pick your favorite colours and size, and there it is! Go to http://www.dna11.com/gallery_finger_prints.as for more information.
(Thanks to Anne van Doorn for the suggestion.)
Good news from our neighbours on the other side of the North Sea: today the British decision to scrap ID cards as well as a national biometric database has officially come into force. This came about with one stroke of the pen by Queen Elizabeth. The responsible Home Office Minister Damian Green gave the following clarification: ‘‘The Identity Card Scheme represented the worst of government. It was intrusive, bullying, ineffective and expensive.’’ We hope the British have set a good example. When will the Netherlands follow suit?
Update: more about this news report in Webwereld, NRC's 'Recht en Bestuur' and NRC Next (in Dutch).
Below is an extensive photo impression of the day of our Passport Trial at the Palace of Justice in The Hague. These pictures were taken by press photographer Guus Schoonewille of Fastfoto and can be used freely under the following title: "Privacy First Foundation, 29 November 2010, Trial against the new Passport Act. Photo: Guus Schoonewille". Click on the picture of your choice to see a larger version which you can download using your right mouse button.