Privacy First opposes biometric immigrant database

Saturday, 26 January 2013
© UBE - Fotolia.com © UBE - Fotolia.com

This week the Dutch House of Representatives will vote on a legislative proposal on the taking of 10 fingerprints of all foreigners (immigrants) for criminal investigation and prosecution purposes. This legislative proposal originally dates back to March 2009, the period in which all the Dutch government could come up with was privacy-intrusive legislation. The Privacy First Foundation deems this legislative proposal to be in breach of the right to privacy and the prohibition of self-incrimination. Below is the email that Privacy First sent to relevant Members of Parliament this afternoon:

Dear Members of Parliament,

Next Tuesday you will cast your vote on a legislative proposal aimed at extending the use of biometric features (fingerprints, facial scans) of immigrants. Hereby the Privacy First Foundation advises you to vote against this legislative proposal, especially in light of its disproportionate character. This disproportionality is demonstrated by the lack of relevant statistics and the relatively low fraud figures mentioned in the annotation to the legislative proposal dated 13 July 2012 by former Minister for Immigration, Integration and Asylum Gerd Leers (Christian-democratic party CDA).[1] As with all human rights, any infringement of the right to privacy (Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, ECHR) requires a concrete statistical necessity instead of vague suspicions and wishful thinking. Therefore, it is all the more worrying that under this legislative proposal the prints of as many as 10 fingers will be taken of every immigrant to ‘compensate’ for the fact that the biometric technology is inadequate to suffice with just one or two fingerprints. However, are these 10 fingerprints not actually meant to serve the interests of criminal investigation behind this legislative proposal...? In this respect, a comparison could be made with the following consideration by the Minister of Justice Benk Korthals (Dutch political party VVD), dated 10 December 2001:

‘‘In response to the question by the CDA, I am not prepared to proceed to the taking of fingerprints of all Dutch citizens in the interests of criminal investigation. This would be disproportionate, considering for example the number of print cases offered on an annual basis, in the whole of the Netherlands around 10,000. Furthermore, it is basically impracticable because prints have to be made of all ten fingers and possibly the hand palms for them to be of any use for criminal investigation. Apart from the administrative processing and control, this would require too big a drain on police resources. In the context of the new ID card, a new biometric feature such as a fingerprint will possibly be adopted. This will be about determining whether the holder of the ID card is in actual fact the very person that is mentioned on it. Perhaps just one fingerprint will be enough for that, but that is absolutely insufficient for criminal investigation.’’[2]

In other words: under the guise of combating fraud, with this legislative proposal a centralised search register of immigrants is created, exactly in the same way that this was about to happen a few years ago with the fingerprints of all Dutch citizens. Privacy First assumes that the various reasons why this last project was reversed midway through 2011 at the insistence of your Parliament (!) are known to you and apply just as much for the current legislative proposal. In addition, this proposal has a stigmatizing effect since it causes a whole population group (immigrants) to be seen as potential suspects. This creates an inversion of the presumption of innocence and conflicts with the prohibition of self-incrimination. In that sense the legislative proposal constitutes a collective violation of both Article 6 (nemo tenetur) and Article 8 ECHR (privacy and physical integrity). With regard to the Passport Act, this has led to a Dutch and European snowball effect of lawsuits since 2009. Therefore, Privacy First hopes that the House of Representatives has the progressive insight to prevent a repetition of this history.

Yours sincerely,

The Privacy First Foundation

[1] See Annotation on account of the report, Parliamentary Documents II, 2011-2012, 33192, no. 6, at 2-3, 5-6, 23, 25-27.

[2] Letter of the Minister of Justice (Benk Korthals) dated 10 december 2001, Parliamentary Documents II, 2001-2002, 19637 (Policy on refugees), no. 635, at 7.

Update 29 January 2013: the legislative proposal (no. 33192) has unfortunately been accepted by the House of Representatives this afternoon (video; starting at 19m36s). Dutch political parties D66, SP, ChristenUnie and the Party for the Animals voted against. Read also the report by Privacy Barometer and today’s article in newspaper NRC Handelsblad. Next stop: the Senate...

Update 29 January 2013, 21:45: Left-wing party GroenLinks ('GreenLeft') has notified that it had intended to vote against and will have the voting record corrected.

Update 30 January 2013: today GroenLinks notified the House of Representatives of its vote against the legislative proposal.

Update 31 January 2013: the article in NRC Handelsblad was also published in the affiliated newspaper NRC Next. Read also today's article in newspaper Nederlands Dagblad.

Update 8 February 2013: for the current status of the legislative proposal in the Dutch Senate, click HERE.

Update 6 March 2013: today Privacy First has sent a similar version of the email above to the Commission for Immigration and Asylum of the Dutch Senate.

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