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Schengen information system goes biometric

15 January, 2004

With the planned inclusion of two biometric identifiers into EU Member States' passports and ID Cards as well as Visa to the EU, it was only a question of time when the first plans to store these identifiers in an EU-wide database would be announced.

The announcement came shortly before Christmas: Biometric data will, according to a Communication from the EU Commission, be included in the data sets referring to persons in the next-generation Schengen Information System. While the update of the present Schengen Information System (SIS) was initially justified by this system's inability to deal with the 25 Member States the EU will have after the enlargement (SIS can only deal with up to 18 national databases), new features have been added continuously to SIS-II, making it the hub of future EU surveillance networks. The present SIS contains, in practice, personal information mostly on non-EU citizens who have been denied access to the EU. SIS-II, which is to become operational in two year's time, will, according to the Commission, be 'integrated in the same architecture' as the future Visa Information System (VIS). Europol, the EU police force, will have access to both.

UK government's biometric plans undermined

3 December, 2003

The biometric technique that has been selected for incorporation into the new UK national ID card has been undermined in the scientific press. New Scientist has reported that the technique of iris scanning is not as perfect and infallible as the Home Secretary (Minister of Internal Affairs) has claimed. The article alleged that the technology was prone to failure and that its success could not be guaranteed if used on a national scale.

New Scientist reported that the key problem "is the limited accuracy of biometric systems combined with the sheer number of people to be identified. The most optimistic claims for iris recognition systems are around 99 per cent accuracy - so for every 100 scans, there will be at least one false match".

"This is acceptable for relatively small databases, but the one being

EP Rapporteur sceptic about biometrics in ID-cards

3 December, 2003

Ole Sorensen, the Rapporteur for the European Parliament on two proposals for Council Regulations to include biometric identifiers into visas and ID cards, is questioning the proportionality and the adequacy of this measure to enhance security standards of EU travel documents. In a Working Document discussed at an internal meeting with the shadow rapporteurs of the political groups, Sorensen criticises the Commission and the Council for not even being able to enumerate the number of falsified visas, passports and ID cards, which still have to serve as a justification for the biometrics proposal. He recalls that visas are already well protected by numerous technical features: "a sign consisting of nine ellipses in a fan-shape, a kinegram (an optically variable mark), a logo, the appearance

EU proposal on biometrics in visa and passports

8 October, 2003

The European Commission is proposing to integrate biometric identifiers into visas and residence permits for third country nationals. Later this year proposals will follow for biometrics in passports of EU citizens, likely to be similar to the visa proposal.

The Commission and member states want to store two types of biometric data into a contactless chip (RFID). A facial digital image will the 'primary biometric identifier in order to ensure interoperability'. As reported in EDRI-gram nr 13, facial images have been chosen by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) as the primary biometric identifier. The US require facial images in passports for countries to be able to take part in the visa waiver program.

Preparations for biometric chip in EU passports

16 July, 2003

International technical standards bodies (ISO) and civil aviation bodies (ICAO) are preparing plans for 'globally interoperable machine readable passports'. The technology should consist of RFIDs (Radio Frequency Identification) that contain 'details that enable the machine-assisted identification of the presenter'. These technical descriptions point at passports that can transmit biometric data over a radio frequency.

The organizations aim at 'fast-track deployment' presumably because of an October 2004 deadline. By that time the USA demand biometric data in passports issued by countries whose citizens normally don't need visa for travelling to the States, such as most EU countries. The US Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act of 2002 states that those countries must have a program to issue "machine-readable passports that are tamper-resistant and incorporate biometric identifiers that comply with applicable biometric identifiers standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organization".

Biometrics in EU passports

2 July, 2003

In a remarkably high-speed procedure, the EU Council plans to oblige all Member States of the Union to introduce chips containing biometric data on their passports within little less than a year. Allegedly, this step is taken to meet a U.S. deadline set on 26 October 2004. After that date, according to a law passed eight months after the 11 September attacks, the U.S will demand visas from all travellers entering the U.S. who don't have DNA code, fingerprints, or iris scans embedded in their travel documents.

It is an open secret however, that the filing of biometric features and their inclusion on personal documents have for a long time been on the wishlist of EU law enforcement officials, in particular those associated with the Schengen Information System (SIS). The EU itself plans to introduce biometric data on visas and residence permits for third country nationals, as part of its fight against illegal immigrants. These data will be stored in the SIS, apparently along with biometric data of EU citizens who have come into conflict with the law.

2 million DNA-profiles in UK police database

2 July, 2003

On the 100th anniversary of George Orwell, a UK police database with DNA-profiles of suspects reached the number of 2 million. According to an article in the English daily The Guardian, Home Secretary (minister of internal affairs) David Blunkett said the five-year-old database was well on the way to its target of holding 3 million profiles of people charged with offences by 2004. Mr. Blunkett also said the police force had 5.5 million sets of fingerprints.

Police powers to keep DNA samples have been strengthened considerably since 2001 when they were first allowed to keep the information indefinitely from suspects who were not convicted.

UK proposal for biometric ID card

23 April, 2003

The controversy in the UK around the introduction of an 'entitlement card' was stirred up again last week by the Home Office (the Ministry of Internal Affairs for England and Wales). The Sunday Telegraph reported that Home Secretary David Blunkett (the minister) intends to charge people 35 - 43 euros for the cards. Thus he hopes to win over the Treasury department who balked at the estimated cost of 2.3 billion euros. Blunkett seems convinced that people's concerns over terrorism and immigration would mean that they would not object to the cost of the card.

Another issue raised in the consultation was the type of identity verification that would be used on the card.

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