Wed, 28 April 2011: 'Privacy advocates happy over scrapped fingerprint list'
"Now my client can just go and apply for a passport," said lawyer Jos Hemelaar delighted. The woman had previously done so, but then she refused to give her fingerprints. And so she was denied a passport: since the new Passport Act of 2009, everyone who applies for a passport has to give up his or her fingerprints.
This is still required now, but one of the woman's main objections was met yesterday by Minister Donner: the prints will only be stored on the chip that is in the passport, the minister announced. They will no longer end up in a separate database.
"That is precisely what my client had great difficulty with," says Hemelaar. "She felt she was being treated like a criminal. Even if you have done nothing wrong, your fingerprints are already being stored. That is a serious invasion of privacy. Because what happens to all those fingerprints? They could at some point be used by the judiciary, for example. And imagine if that database were cracked. That would be a disaster. Of course, the fact that the fingerprints do end up on the chip in the passport itself is also an invasion of privacy. But a lesser one. You can compare it to the photo on your passport: it's an extra way of checking whether you are indeed the person on the passport."
The woman, helped by Hemelaar, went to court but received zero response: last month, her objections were rejected by the Hague court. The same happened earlier in the case of over 20 other fingerprint refusers. "I was just about to start preparing the appeal this week," Hemelaar says, "but I think that is no longer necessary now. That the minister has decided to refrain from storing the fingerprints for the time being is a big win."
That is also the opinion of the Dutch Data Protection Authority (CBP) and several organisations fighting against interference in citizens' privacy. The CBP has long been critical of fingerprint storage. CBP chairman Kohnstamm called the database a violation of privacy. "There is a pressure to continue setting aside privacy, and that has already led to a number of derailments. This is one of them."
The Privacy First foundation reacted fondly to the halt of fingerprint storage, seeing in it proof "that social resistance pays off."
Source: Wed, 28 April 2011, p. 5.