Privacy Concerns Won’t End EU Passport Fingerprinting

     (CN) – Fingerprinting and other biometric features constitute justifiable invasions of privacy and are necessary to fight passport fraud in the EU, Europe’s highest court ruled Thursday.
     Michael Schwartz sued the city of Bochum, Germany after officials there turned down his passport application because he refused to be fingerprinted. The EU requires that passports contain biometric data – in this case, fingerprints – to reduce fraud, counterfeiting and associated security risks.
     Schwartz claimed that EU passport rules violate his right to privacy and personal data protection, and have no legal basis. The administrative court in Gelsenkirchen referred its own questions regarding the validity of passport law to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
     The Luxembourg-based high court acknowledged that passport requirements constitute an invasion of privacy, but are necessary “to protect the rights and freedoms of others.” It also rejected Schwartz’s argument that fingerprinting is an unreliable method of identification. (34)
     “Although it is true that the use of fingerprints as a means of ascertaining identity may on an exceptional basis lead to authorized persons being rejected by mistake, the fact remains that a mismatch between the fingerprints of the holder of a passport and the data in that document does not mean that the person concerned will automatically be refused entry to the European Union,” the court wrote. “A mismatch of that kind will simply draw the competent authorities’ attention to the person concerned and will result in a more detailed check of that person in order definitively to establish his identity.” (44)
     The court noted that the only other biometric option currently available is the iris scan, which is significantly more costly and less advanced than fingerprint recognition technology. And iris scans would not infringe less on Schwartz’s privacy either, according to the justices.
     “The court has not been made aware of any measures which would be both sufficiently effective in helping to achieve the aim of protecting against the fraudulent use of passports and less of a threat to individual rights than the measures deriving from the method based on the use of fingerprints,” the court wrote. (53)
     Still, the high court cautioned that under EU law, authorities may only use the biometric data to verify a passport’s authenticity and its holder’s identity.
     “That regulation ensures protection against the risk of data including fingerprints being read by unauthorized persons,” the court wrote. “In that regard, the regulation makes it clear that such data are to be kept in a highly secure storage medium in the passport of the person concerned.” (57)
     The court declined to take up the German court’s own suggestion that fingerprints might one day be collected, centralized and used for more nefarious purposes than confirming the identity of world travelers.”The arguments put forward by the referring court concerning the risks linked to possible centralization cannot affect the validity of the regulation and would have, should the case arise, to be examined in the course of an action brought before the competent courts against legislation providing for a centralized fingerprint base,” the court concluded.

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