Mobile finger scanners? Not in my backyard.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

This summer it was already announced (and commented on by Privacy First) but yesterday it again popped up in the media: this fall four regional Dutch police forces will carry out a pilot experiment with mobile finger scanners to track down illegal immigrants. In official jargon this experimental project is called a ‘learning park’, according to a long-awaited response (after three months) to earlier Parliamentary questions. What will our friends at the police learn in the 'park' called the Netherlands? Privacy First sheds some light on a number of possible 'learning moments':

1) collectively intruding upon other people’s privacy and physical integrity by taking fingerprints of everyone who, in the eyes of the policeman, could perhaps be ‘illegal’,

2) this is very likely to go hand in hand with discriminatory enforcement, ethnic profiling and increasing stigmatization of certain societal groups,

3) initially the scanners will mostly be used for ‘illegal’ immigrants (undocumented migrants) but will then be used for other groups and eventually for every citizen, for instance for the collection of outstanding fines or tax debts (so-called 'function creep'),

4) this year it already appeared that the current state of biometric technology (with current error rates in passports and ID cards of at least 21%) is still in its infancy and isn’t suitable for use on a massive scale,

5) with all the consequences this entails, among which are unjustified suspicions, unjustified immigration detention placements, mutual feelings of insecurity and risks of irritation, confrontations and aggression on the streets,

6) all of this not even considering possible data leakages and hacking of the used equipment,

7) and all of this without public Privacy Impact Assessments and cost-benefit analysis of the matter in hand.

Hence, these mobile finger scanners are dangerous toys. Our advice: don’t start using them. This ‘learning park’ is nothing less than a privacy swamp.

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