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Privacy First opposes biometric alien database

This week, the House of Representatives will vote on a bill to collect 10 fingerprints from all aliens (immigrants) for detection and prosecution purposes, among others. This bill originally dates back to March 2009, or the period when the Dutch government managed to produce purely privacy-infringing legislation. Privacy First Foundation considers the bill to violate the right to privacy and the prohibition of self-incrimination. Below is the email Privacy First sent to relevant MPs this afternoon:

Honourable MPs,

Next Tuesday, you will vote on the bill to expand the use of biometrics (fingerprints and facial scans) in the immigration chain. Stichting Privacy First hereby advises you to vote against this bill, especially given its disproportionate nature. This is already apparent from the lack of quantification and the relatively low fraud figures as presented by former Minister Gerd Leers (CDA) in his note accompanying the bill dated 13 July 2012 are listed.[1] As with all human rights, an infringement of the right to privacy (Art. 8 ECHR) in this context requires a hard numerical necessity rather than vague suspicions and wishful thinking. All the more worrying, then, that under this bill, as many as 10 fingerprints will be taken from every foreigner 'to compensate' for the fact that biometric technology is inadequate to make do with one or two fingerprints. Or do these 10 fingerprints in reality mainly serve the investigative interest behind the bill...? In this context, compare the following considerations by Justice Minister Korthals (VVD) dated 10 December 2001:

"In response to the [CDA]'s question, I am not prepared to take fingerprints of all Dutch citizens in the interests of detection. This means is disproportionate given, for example, the number of trace cases offered on an annual basis, approximately 10,000 in the whole of the Netherlands. Furthermore, it is practically impractical because all 10 fingers and possibly the palms of the hands must be taken for it to be useful for detection. This would require too great a strain on police capacity. This is apart from the administrative processing and control. As part of the new proof of identity, a biometric feature such as a fingerprint may be included. There, the point is to determine that the possessor of the identity proof is actually the person mentioned on that proof. One fingerprint might be sufficient for that, but that is totally insufficient for detection."[2]

In other words: under the guise of combating fraud, this bill creates a central detection register of aliens (immigrants), exactly as threatened to happen a few years ago with the fingerprints of all Dutch citizens. Privacy First considers the various reasons why the latter project was reversed in mid-2011 at the insistence of your House (!) known to you and equally applicable to the present bill. In addition, this bill has a stigmatising effect, as it makes an entire population group (in this case immigrants) a priori a potential suspect. This constitutes a reversal of the presumption of innocence and violates the ban on self-incrimination. In this sense, this bill constitutes a collective violation of both Article 6 (nemo tenetur) as Art 8 ECHR (privacy and bodily integrity). In the case of the Passport Act, this has led to a Dutch and European snowball effect of lawsuits since 2009. Privacy First therefore hopes that your Chamber has the progressive insight to prevent a repeat of this history.

Sincerely,

Privacy First Foundation 

[1] See Note to report, Parliamentary Papers II, 2011-2012, 33192, no 6, pp. 2-3, 5-6, 23, 25-27.

[2] Letter from the Minister of Justice (Benk Korthals) dated 10 December 2001, Parliamentary Papers II, 2001-2002, 19637 (Refugee policy), no 635, p. 7.

Update 29 January 2013: The bill (no. 33192) was unfortunately passed by the House of Representatives this afternoon adopted (videoreport at Privacy Barometer and the article today in NRC Handelsblad. Next stop: Upper House...

Update Jan 29, 2013, 9.45pm: GreenLeft let it be known to have wanted to vote against and will have the voting record corrected.

Update 30 Jan 2013: In today's order of business, the Green Left's dissenting vote communicated to the House of Representatives.

Update 31 January 2013: The article in NRC Handelsblad also appeared in NRC Next. Also read the article today in the Nederlands Dagblad.

Update 8 February 2013: click HERE for the current status of this bill in the Senate.

Update 6 March 2013: Today, Privacy First sent a similar version of the above email to the Senate Committee on Immigration & Asylum.