Privacy First warns Senate on fingerprints in identity cards
The controversial European obligation to include fingerprints in passports has existed since 2009. Until now, identity cards were exempt from this European obligation.
Nevertheless, fingerprints were also included in Dutch identity cards since 2009, but due to privacy concerns, this Dutch obligation was abolished in January 2014. However, there is now new European legislation that will make the inclusion of fingerprints in identity cards mandatory again from 2 August 2021.
Dutch citizens can still apply for a new identity card without fingerprints until 2 August next. After that, no more, unless you are "temporarily or permanently physically unable to have fingerprints taken."
The Senate is expected to debate and vote on the amendment to the Passport Act regarding the reintroduction of fingerprints in Dutch identity cards. In that regard, Privacy First sent the following appeal to the Senate yesterday.
Appeal to the Senate
Ever since our establishment in 2008, Privacy First Foundation has been opposing the compulsory collection of fingerprints for passports and identity cards. Privacy First has done so since the introduction of the new Passport Act in 2009 through lawsuits, campaigns, Wob requests, political lobbying and media activation. Despite subsequent discontinuation of the (planned) central storage of fingerprints in a national database and at municipalities in 2011, everyone's fingerprints are still taken when applying for a passport and soon also (due to the new European Identity Card Regulation) again for Dutch identity cards after this was abolished in 2014.
To date, however, all the millions of fingerprints taken from virtually the entire adult Dutch population have not been used in practice, or have hardly been used at all, as the process had already been found to be technically unsound and unworkable in 2009. The mandatory collection of everyone's fingerprints under the Passport Act thus still constitutes the most massive and longest-lasting privacy violation the Netherlands has ever known. After reading the current report of the Senate on the amendment of the Passport Act to reintroduce fingerprints in identity cards, Privacy First hereby draws the Senate's attention to the concerns below. In this context, we ask you to vote against the relevant legislative amendment, also against European policy. After all:
- Already in May 2016, the Council of State ruled that fingerprints in Dutch identity cards violate the right to privacy due to lack of necessity and proportionality, see https://www.raadvanstate.nl/pers/persberichten/tekst-persbericht.html?id=956 .
- Wob requests from Privacy First revealed that the phenomenon to be combated (look-alike fraud on passports and identity cards) is so small in scale that compulsory issue of everyone's fingerprints to combat it is totally disproportionate and therefore unlawful. See https://privacyfirst.nl/artikelen/onthullende-cijfers-over-look-alike-fraude-met-nederlandse-reisdocumenten/.
- Fingerprints in passports and identity cards had a biometric error rate as high as 30% in recent years, see https://zoek.officielebekendmakingen.nl/kst-32317-163.html (State Secretary Teeven, 31 Jan 2013). Earlier, minister Donner admitted an error rate of 21-25%: see https://zoek.officielebekendmakingen.nl/kst-25764-47.html (27 April 2011). How high are these error rates anno 2021?
- Partly because of the aforementioned high error rates, fingerprints in passports and ID cards are virtually not used to date, either domestically, at borders or at airports.
- Because of these high error rates, former state secretary Bijleveld (BZK) already instructed all Dutch municipalities in September 2009 to (in principle) not carry out fingerprint verifications when issuing passports and identity cards. After all, in case of a "mismatch", the relevant ID document has to be returned to the passport manufacturer, which would lead to rapid social disruption in case of high numbers. Also in this context, the Interior Ministry was concerned about large-scale unrest and possible violence at municipal counters. The relevant concerns and instruction from State Secretary Bijleveld still apply today.
- Since 2016, several individual Dutch court cases are still pending at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg challenging the mandatory issuance of fingerprints for passports and ID cards for violating Art 8 ECHR (right to privacy).
- An exception should still be negotiated for people who do not wish to give fingerprints for whatever reason (biometric conscientious objectors, Art. 9 ECHR).
- Partly for the above reasons, the Dutch identity card has not been fingerprinted since January 2014. It is up to the Senate to maintain this situation and also to push for the abolition of fingerprinting for passports.
For background information, see the WRR report 'Happy Landings' that Privacy First director Vincent Böhre wrote in 2010. Partly in response to this critical report (and the large-scale lawsuit by Privacy First et al against the Passport Act), decentralised (municipal) fingerprint storage was largely abolished in 2011 and the planned central fingerprint storage was discontinued.
For questions relating to the above, Privacy First accessible at all times.
interview BNR Nieuwsradio 2 August 2021: https://www.bnr.nl/nieuws/technologie/10450184/identiteitskaart-voortaan-altijd-met-vingerafdrukken.