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Utrecht wants halt to storage of passport biometrics

In the late evening of Thursday 10 March 2011, the Utrecht City Council overwhelmingly approved a motion adopted to stop municipal storage of biometric data (fingerprints and facial scans) when applying for a new passport or identity card. At Initiative of D66 Utrecht and supported by almost all other local political groups (except the CDA), the motion calls on both the House of Representatives and the Home Minister to stop the current storage of biometrics and to amend the Passport Act to that end.

The storage of fingerprints is mandatory under the new Passport Act of June 2009 and has since come under increasing fire. Just weeks after the new Passport Act was passed, critical questions were raised about it by the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva. Since then, there has been increasing public opposition and criticism at local, national and European level. At the municipal level, this happened first in the Zaan region in February 2010, followed by criticism from the municipal councils of Purmerend, Amsterdam, Huizen, Nijmegen, Oldenzaal and Amersfoort, among others. This development is now reaching a climax with the Utrecht city council's call to the Lower House and the responsible minister to stop the municipal storage of fingerprints and facial scans and amend the Passport Act in this regard. An audio recording of this historic moment can be found HERE.

Privacy First Foundation warmly welcomes this Utrecht motion and hopes that the Lower House will soon adopt it. In Privacy First's view, municipalities are already authorised (in deviation from the Passport Act) to independently stop the current storage of fingerprints. This is in view of the fact that municipalities, as public bodies, are directly bound by (and must therefore independently implement) higher international and European law on the subject, including the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and comparable provisions of EU law. If municipalities did not have such own responsibility and authority, human rights protection at the municipal level would effectively become illusory. Municipalities can invoke 1) the right to privacy and protection of personal data, 2) the right to bodily integrity, 3) the principle of 'nemo tenetur' and 4) the right to individual ownership of their residents' biometric data.

Privacy First and 21 co-plaintiffs sued the Dutch state in May 2010 for human rights violations caused by the new Passport Act. Currently, Privacy First is preparing the appeal in this lawsuit at the Court of Appeal in The Hague.

You can read more about the Utrecht motion in Domestic Administration and Webworld.