Mobile finger scanners: is the Netherlands becoming a police state after all?

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Shocking news today: the Dutch police wants to check fingerprints on the streets. An experiment with special finger-scan equipment is to start this fall.

Initially the aim of the experiment is to track down illegal immigrants and suspects of crimes. After that, attention will undoubtedly turn to all other citizens.

It was recently decided to halt the storage of fingerprints when applying for passports and ID cards on account of privacy objections and the enormous error rates (21-25%) in biometric technology. Such errors could lead to great numbers of innocent citizens ending up as suspects. Apparently the police is now accepting this risk. No doubt this is a six-figure deal: biometrics are big business. Similar, heavily criticized projects in Great Britain involved millions of ICT pounds.  

However, according to the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice there’s no problem:

‘‘Instead of people having to go to the police station, fingerprints are taken on the spot. This reduces bureaucracy, makes sure there’s more police out on the streets and improves criminal investigation.’’ (Source)

Privacy First stands up against this type of criminalization of public space. Fingerprints have to be taken of suspects at the police station. Not of ordinary citizens on the streets. Apart from violating people's privacy, this paves the way for arbitrariness, discrimination and ethnic profiling.

In the view of Privacy First, the scheduled experiment violates current privacy legislation. During the recent hearing about passport biometrics at the Dutch House of Representatives this was even confirmed by the Chief Information Officer of the Dutch Police itself:

‘‘When the identity of someone has to be ascertained out on the street, or when a passport is handed over, it’s not like the police immediately has a look, wherever... It’s not even allowed, but technically it isn't available either.’’
(A. Meijboom (CIO Dutch Police),
Round table about biometric data in passports, permanent commission for the Ministry of the Interior, Dutch House of Representatives, 20 April 2011.)

Everyone can draw their own conclusions from this.

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