NRC Handelsblad & NRC Next, 29-30 Jan 2013: 'Still database for fingerprint'
"The Lower House today approves central storage of fingerprints, of foreigners. It earlier rejected such a database for Dutch nationals.
Objections were high at the end of 2010. The equipment to recognise fingerprints made mistakes. There were doubts about privacy. It was unclear what problem the government would actually solve with central storage of fingerprints of all Dutch citizens.
And so that central storage, part of the Passport Act, did not happen. MPs saw too many problems. VVD and PvdA, now coalition partners, were also quite critical. The PvdA called central storage "dead and buried", the VVD saw "considerable risks".
And yet today, the House of Representatives again approves a bill regulating such central storage. This time not for Dutch citizens, but for foreigners. VVD and PvdA are in favour, as are CDA and PVV.
According to state secretary Fred Teeven (Security and Justice, VVD), the database is mainly needed to combat identity fraud. Storing fingerprints of foreigners should provide a solution to fraud where someone pretends to be a person they resemble.
How often this kind of lookalike-fraud exactly occurs is not clear, Teeven admitted. The Immigration and Naturalisation Service and the military police register the number of forged documents, but "it is not always possible to determine whether there is malicious intent," Teeven said last week.
According to the opposition, SP and D66 among others, without those numbers it is difficult to determine whether the law is proportionate. And figures from surveys confirm their doubts. Fewer than 10 asylum applications are rejected annually because a foreigner is carrying a passport that does not belong to him - that is the lookalike-fraud that this law aims to counter.
The law on storing fingerprints for aliens explicitly states that these prints can be used for detection. In the case of the Passport Act, the risk that police and judicial authorities might use those fingerprints was precisely the reason to be cautious.
"Unjustified discrimination," SP MP Sharon Gesthuizen calls this. "It is discriminatory. This measure was unthinkable if Dutch citizens were involved." She is supported by Vincent Böhre, of interest group Privacy First. "This makes an entire population group, in this case foreigners, potential suspects a priori."
Why do VVD and PvdA now agree to such a surcharge for foreigners, while they did not want it for Dutch citizens? According to PvdA MP Khadija Arib because now "there has been a really good look at whether this is technically possible". State Secretary Teeven said that there is much more expertise within the aliens services about the use of fingerprints than at the municipal desks that issue passports.
The chance that this storage will still meet with objections, as happened with the Passport Act, is small, Vincent Böhre estimates. "Apparently, politicians have less of a problem with violating the privacy of foreigners."
Foreigners can also do even less against that Dutch state. If they want a visa, they will have to give their fingerprints. Dutch nationals took the government to court before giving their fingerprints. Böhre: "Someone who wants to work or study here can, at most, afterwards demand that their prints disappear from that database again."
Asylum seekers arriving in the Netherlands now have to provide two fingerprints. These go into an EU database to check whether someone has also applied for asylum in another member state. With the new law, the Netherlands goes further. Fingerprints of asylum seekers, but also of 'ordinary' migrants who want to work or study here for more than three months, go into a central storage. This will give it data on many more people: in 2011, 58,950 applied for an ordinary residence permit, compared to 11,300 asylum seekers. They will soon have to hand over prints of all their fingers plus passport photograph."
Source: NRC Handelsblad 29 January 2013, p. 8. Also published in NRC Next 30 January 2013, p. 8, under the title "Netherlands stores fingerprints again, now of foreigners".