Wednesday, 01 February 2012 13:36

Your fingerprints in the Twilight Zone

In almost all of the lawsuits that are pending against the new Dutch Passport Act, there is one important subject that has so far been little exposed: the use of sensitive personal data by secret services. In this case it’s about biometrics: digital facial scans and fingerprints that end up in all sorts of databases through people's passports and ID cards. At the moment those databases are still only in the hands of municipalities and the passport manufacturer in Haarlem (Morpho, previously called Sagem), in the future they will undoubtedly end up elsewhere too, eventually worldwide. In that sense every Dutchman is a potential globetrotter: in the long term your fingerprints and facial scan may be available even in the farthest corners of the world. Not only in the databases of ‘allies’, but also in the databases of countries with which those ‘allies’ have in turn concluded (possibly secret) exchange agreements. And this is all but transparent. Neither is it publicly known what secret services are willing to use our biometrics for. A Privacy First employee who was eager to examine this for the Dutch Scientific Council for Government Policy (Wetenschappelijke Raad voor het Regeringsbeleid, WRR) soon encountered a wall of research restrictions. So for the time being all we can do is guess... Possible intelligence purposes of biometrics are: 1) identification of suspects unwilling to talk and ‘interesting’ persons in public space, 2) recognition of emotions and lie detection, 3) the use or recognition of doubles, 4) espionage, etc. The first purpose (identification) is being facilitated by the Radio-frequency identification (RFID)-aspect of the biometric chip in your passport or ID card. It’s precisely because of this that the chip can be read from a distance.  

Back to the main subject: the use of sensitive personal data by secret services. Today this is as easy as pie: many people unashamedly put half of their private lives on the internet, for instance on Facebook. And if the information can’t be found on the internet, it can be traced in databases of companies and the government. In the way you in your student days perhaps once turned on the TV with a pool cue without leaving your lazy armchair, secret services can nowadays conjure up your whole life including your fingerprints merely at the press of a button. But is this actually allowed? And in this respect, does it make any difference if your fingerprints are stored are stored 1) by the municipality, 2) in a central database or 3) by a passport manufacturer? ‘‘Yes, that’s allowed’’ and ‘‘no, it doesn’t matter where they’re stored’’, the Dutch State consistently implied until mid-2011 through the State attorney:    

‘‘Fingerprints will also have to be supplied to the General Intelligence and Security Service (Algemene Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdienst, AIVD) and the Military Intelligence and Security Service (Militaire Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdienst, MIVD). The provision of information to these services is regulated in Article 17 of the Intelligence and Security Services Act (Wet op de Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdiensten, WIVD). This already applied prior to the coming into force of parts of the modified Passport Act and it will be no different now that it’s been modified. The mention in Article 4b, paragraph 2(d) Passport Act (‘state security’) was merely motivated by transparency reasons.’’
(Source: Statement of Defence in the Passport lawsuit by Privacy First dated 28 July 2010, para. 2.17; repeated word for word in, among other things, the statements of defence of the State in the Passport lawsuits by Van Luijk dated 29 October 2010 & 10 June 2011 (paras.
3.17 & 5.8 respectively) and Deutekom dated 23 November 2010, para. 4.17.)

So there the State claims that basically nothing would change with the introduction of the Passport Act since the AIVD would already have had the opportunity to make a request for your fingerprints. Meanwhile however, the development of a central biometric database has been put on hold which means your fingerprints are stored ‘only’ relatively shortly by the municipality and the manufacturer. From a legal point of view this is what the discussion now revolves around. For instance on 27 October 2011 before a single judge at the district court of Amsterdam:

Judge: ‘‘Yes, I just wondered, madam [State attorney], you’re saying that Mr’s fear that intelligence and security agencies have access to his personal data - his fingerprints and facial scan -, is taken actually away by Article 65 [Passport Act].’’
State attorney: ‘‘Article 65 only applies to fingerprints.’’
Judge: ‘‘Mr [X] has pointed at Articles 17 to 34 of the Intelligence and Security Services Act. How do you see that?’’
State attorney: ‘‘I can very briefly say something about how you should see this in relation to each other. (...) The point is, quite a few things have of course been said about this in the legal history of this case. So when does the possibility of access arise: once you have a central administration with a biometric search function. There are all sorts of regulations but it’s not as if the AIVD could come up with a fingerprint and say to the municipality ‘show us who this fingerprint belongs to’. But that possibility, it isn’t there. There is simply no biometric search function. In that area the only possibility of what municipalities can do in providing fingerprints, is making a print of it, which comes down to: a sheet of paper with dots. That is the rendering on paper of those fingerprints. Provided the AIVD has complied to the regulations under which they can make a request for information on the basis of the WIVD, it could provide a name to the municipality where the person concerned is registered and could then make a request for personal data. For as far as such a request would concern fingerprints, it wouldn’t thus be any more than a printed page with those dots. So it can never happen, and this is the important point, that the AIVD would come up with fingerprints and say: ‘who are these fingerprints from?’’’
Attorney: ‘‘This is not what my client fears. My clients fears that the AIVD says: ‘we want to see the fingerprints of Mr [X]’.’’
State attorney: ‘‘If the AIVD would like to have the fingerprints of Mr [X], then it wouldn’t need the travel documents registration. They’re on these items over here, so to speak, on this cup...’’
Attorney: ‘‘Well I don’t see anyone of the AIVD taking fingerprints of my client, and it’s not just about him, it’s about him saying: ‘I find it to be in conflict with my conscience to cooperate because in that way the fingerprints of all Dutch citizens could be requested for by the AIVD.’ Not just his, but everyone’s.’’
Judge: ‘‘With the legislation that is in place now, would it be practically possible for the AIVD to step up to the municipality of Amsterdam and say: ‘we would like to have the fingerprints of Mr [X]?’’’
State attorney: ‘‘Eeehm, well [inaudible], Article 65 second paragraph [Passport Act] dictates that fingerprints may only be requested for the application and issuance of a passport. As far as the AIVD would be allowed to make a request for those data on the basis of its own legislation, they wouldn’t be able to obtain anything more than those printed dots because the municipality can’t offer anything different than that.’’
Interruption from the audience: ‘‘They can through [passport manufacturer] Morpho.’’
Judge: ‘‘You are not a party in this lawsuit. I have to ask you not to take part in the litigation.’’

So merely a ‘print with dots’, according to the State attorney. Demanding fingerprints at the passport manufacturer unfortunately was not discussed during the court session. Subsequently the case was redirected within the district court of Amsterdam to a court session with three judges. On 25 January 2012 this point of discussion was again briefly discussed:

Judge 3: ‘‘And what if the information is in the hands of the manufacturer?’’
State attorney: ‘‘Eeeeeeeehm... On what basis would the manufacturer be allowed to provide those data?’’
Judge 3: ‘‘That’s what I’m asking you.’’
To this question no clear answer was given by the State attorney, just a vague reference to Article 65, paragraph 2 of the Passport Act. Then a painful silence followed... and the judges didn’t ask any further questions.
Judge 3: ‘‘And Mr [attorney of X], what’s your take on this point?’’
Attorney: ‘‘I have a different view! [laughter from the audience]
The attorney of X subsequently extensively refers to the relevant legal history of the Passport Act and the provisions of the WIVD 2002.
State attorney: ‘‘Even if the AIVD would be able to make a request for fingerprints on the basis of Article 17 WIVD, then they would never get anything more than a printed page with those dots.
(...) They would get a printed page with the fingerprints, which is a printed page with dots.’’ A little later, after having been verbally informed by a civil servant of the Dutch Ministry of the Interior: ‘‘I’ve said something wrong. I said you get a printed page with dots, but now I understand you get a printed page with an image.’’

Hence, after a dozen court sessions about the Dutch Passport Act, the official clarification by the Dutch State on the use of fingerprints by secret services goes as follows: ‘‘a print with an image, from the municipality’’. The question thus remains whether digital requests can also be made to 1) the municipality and 2) the passport manufacturer, and if so, what exactly happens with it. The same goes for facial scans. The upcoming court session in the Passport Act saga will be on Monday, 2 April 2012 (11.00 am) at the Dutch Council of State (Raad van State). It will then be up the Council to clarify this case after all and invite expert witnesses in case necessary.

Update 10 February 2012: As a result of the above article, written questions have been asked by Member of European Parliament Sophie in ‘t Veld to both passport manufacturer Morpho as well as to the European Commission. At the same time Member of the Dutch House of Representatives Gerard Schouw has asked similar Parliamentary questions to the Dutch Minister of the Interior Liesbeth Spies.

Published in Biometrics

On 31 May 2012 the Netherlands will once again be examined in Geneva by the highest human rights body in the world: the United Nations Human Rights Council. The UN Human Rights Council was founded in 2006 and consists of 47 of the 192 UN Member States. Since 2008 the human rights situation in each country is periodically reviewed. This procedure takes place every four years for each UN Member State and is called ‘Universal Periodic Review’ (UPR). During the first UPR session in 2008 it was straight away the Netherlands’ turn to be examined and our country was in fact heavily criticized. In 2011 the privacy situation in the Netherlands is even worse compared to 2008: enough ground for Privacy First to raise a number of issues with the UN. Privacy First did so last night through a so-called shadow report: a report in which NGOs can voice their concerns on a particular issue. (For such reports strict requirements with the Human Rights Council apply, among which a limit of 2815 words.) Without shadow reports, diplomats in the Council are not able to do their work properly. Otherwise they would of course be dependent on the State report of the Netherlands itself. So Privacy First presented its own report with the following recommendations:  

•  No national biometric database, not even in the long run;

•  No introduction of mobile fingerprint scanners;

•  Introduction of a truly anonymous OV-chipkaart (Public Transport chip card);

•  No introduction of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) as currently envisaged;

•  Transparency and suspension of the new border control system @MIGO;

•  A voluntary, regional instead of national Electronic Health Record System with 'privacy by design';

•  Proper legislation concerning the profiling of citizens.

You can download our entire report HERE. We hope that our recommendations will be accepted in the Human Rights Council and will lead to an international exchange of best practices. Privacy First is happy to keep you informed on these developments.

Update 23 March 2012: this week the long-awaited Dutch UPR State report for the Human Rights Council appeared. Moreover, the shadow report by the Dutch section of the International Commission of Jurists (Dutch abbreviation: NJCM) that was presented earlier (also on behalf of 24 other NGOs) became public. The NJCM report contains a very critical section on privacy in which – parallel to the recommendations of Privacy First – among other things, a call for the abrogation of the current plans concerning ANPR and mobile fingerprint scanners is made; see pp. 6-7 of the NJCM report. Relevant reports by other organisations can be found HERE.

Official preparatory work for the Dutch State report has seen two consultation meetings with Dutch civil society (NGOs) at the Dutch Ministry of the Interior (Dutch abbreviation: BZK) in recent months. During the first meeting on 1 December 2011, Privacy First insisted on incorporating a separate section about privacy in the State report. During the second meeting on 16 January 2012, Privacy First requested an explicit mention of ‘privacy by design’ in that very section. BZK responded positively to both requests. However, the privacy section in the State report appears to be relatively short, superficial and elusive. It is telling that this section is part of the chapter ‘Challenges and constraints’. This gives the impression of a defensive attitude. What’s even more telling is the following sentence: ‘‘The challenge will now be to ensure that all these [privacy infringing] measures are implemented.’’ Apparently the Dutch State is not sure where it stands... And rightly so. The mere positive points are the mention of ‘privacy by design’, the report by the Dutch Scientific Council for Government Policy called iOverheid (iGovernment) and the following passage:

"In addition, partly in response to concerns expressed in Parliament, certain policy measures that impact on privacy are currently being modified, as for example the discontinuation of the storage of fingerprint data on national ID-cards and within the passport database."

Privacy First interprets this passage as an international declaration (unilateral statement) from the Netherlands to stop the storage of fingerprints on ID-cards and in its travel document administration once and for all. Privacy First is keen to continue reminding the government of this.

Update 5 April 2012: the international lobbying surrounding the UPR session of the Netherlands on 31 May 2012 is in full swing, both at foreign embassies in The Hague as well as within the permanent representations of UN Member States in Geneva. In this context an important 'UPR pre-session' took place yesterday morning in Geneva where various international human rights organisations had the opportunity to voice their concerns about the Netherlands in front of a broad audience of foreign diplomats. Click HERE for an impression of the meeting about the Netherlands. The statement by Privacy First during this meeting can be found HERE and can also be downloaded on the website of the Dutch Human Rights Institute under incorporation.

Update 21 April 2012: Based on all shadow reports (among which that of Privacy First) that the UN received at the end of 2011, an official UN summary has in the meantime been drawn up in Geneva. This ‘summary of stakeholders’ information’ can be found HERE. Apart from Privacy First, the NJCM (also on behalf of the Dutch Platform for the Protection of Civil Rights / Platform Bescherming Burgerrechten), Bits of Freedom, the Dutch Data Protection Authority, Vrijbit and the Dutch Contact Point on Abuse of Mandatory Identification (Meldpunt Misbruik Identificatieplicht) all sent their privacy worries to Geneva in writing; all these reports will soon appear on this UN page. As far as Privacy First is aware, this has not occurred on this scale before. Therefore, for the first time in history the privacy theme figures prominently in a UN report about the Netherlands, as a matter of fact more prominent than is the case in other summaries, for example the one on the United Kingdom. Furthermore, it’s striking that the UN cites a passage about profiling from the Privacy First report: ‘‘digital profiles can be extremely detailed and profiling can easily lead to discrimination and 'steering' of persons in pre-determined directions, depending on the 'categories' their profiles 'fit into' and without the persons in question being aware of this.’’ (UN summary, para. 65). All of this can rightly be called a breakthrough that will hopefully bear fruit during the upcoming session on 31 May 2012.

Update 23 May 2012: In recent months Privacy First has had a series of useful conversations with foreign diplomats in Geneva and The Hague. Meanwhile a number of so-called ‘advance questions’ by UN Member States have appeared on the UPR website of the UN. Among them is the following question by the United Kingdom to the Netherlands: ‘‘Given recent concerns about data collection and security, including the unintended consequences of cases of identity theft, does the Netherlands have plans for measures to ensure more comprehensive oversight of the collection, use and retention of personal data?’’ (Source) Privacy First looks forward with confidence to further questions by UN Member States about Dutch privacy perils.

Published in Law & Politics
Wednesday, 26 October 2011 16:15

Mobile finger scanners? Not in my backyard.

This summer it was already announced (and commented on by Privacy First) but yesterday it again popped up in the media: this fall four regional Dutch police forces will carry out a pilot experiment with mobile finger scanners to track down illegal immigrants. In official jargon this experimental project is called a ‘learning park’, according to a long-awaited response (after three months) to earlier Parliamentary questions. What will our friends at the police learn in the 'park' called the Netherlands? Privacy First sheds some light on a number of possible 'learning moments':

1) collectively intruding upon other people’s privacy and physical integrity by taking fingerprints of everyone who, in the eyes of the policeman, could perhaps be ‘illegal’,

2) this is very likely to go hand in hand with discriminatory enforcement, ethnic profiling and increasing stigmatization of certain societal groups,

3) initially the scanners will mostly be used for ‘illegal’ immigrants (undocumented migrants) but will then be used for other groups and eventually for every citizen, for instance for the collection of outstanding fines or tax debts (so-called 'function creep'),

4) this year it already appeared that the current state of biometric technology (with current error rates in passports and ID cards of at least 21%) is still in its infancy and isn’t suitable for use on a massive scale,

5) with all the consequences this entails, among which are unjustified suspicions, unjustified immigration detention placements, mutual feelings of insecurity and risks of irritation, confrontations and aggression on the streets,

6) all of this not even considering possible data leakages and hacking of the used equipment,

7) and all of this without public Privacy Impact Assessments and cost-benefit analysis of the matter in hand.

Hence, these mobile finger scanners are dangerous toys. Our advice: don’t start using them. This ‘learning park’ is nothing less than a privacy swamp.

Published in Biometrics

Step 1: E-Gates at Schiphol Airport

Today a seemingly innocent article in Computable caught Privacy First’s attention. The title of the article is ‘‘Passport photo system is fraud sensitive’’ and its subtitle reads ‘‘Digital passport photo inadequate’’. The gist of the article is that the quality of the facial scans in passports (and ID cards) will have to be improved in order for the chance of mismatches in automated facial recognition at Schiphol Airport to be reduced. An experiment with facial recognition is currently planned for the fall of 2011. At Schiphol 36 so-called E-Gates will then be installed: gates for automatic border passage.    

On your way to the gate you will simply walk through one of those gates: the System verifies whether your face corresponds with the face on the chip of your passport. In case the System works 100% a 100% of the time then it’s enormously useful. In case it doesn’t, the System causes delays and irritation, long queues and new opportunities for identity fraud. And even if it does work faultlessly, there’s still a hidden 'catch': automatic screening of your security profile. Before coming to Schiphol you have already been completely screened on the basis of all possible databases that have been linked to you. Once at Schiphol it’s 'party time': without you knowing it your name has been assigned to a green, yellow, orange or red flag. More colors are possible. All of this remains unknown to you, which makes it all the more exciting. If you are taken apart from the queue at the E-Gate then it won’t be for a cup of tea and a biscuit, but to admire the color of your virtual flag once more. After all, it’s party time and the Royal Netherlands Border Police would rather not be color-blind. With a bit of luck you can still go aboard your plane, hoping of course that at the arrival in country X there’s no other feast of flags awaiting you.

Step 2: passport photo booth in the city hall

A few years later (on your return to the Netherlands) you need to renew your passport. For new passport photos you go to your local professional photographer. However, he redirects you to the city hall. For some time passports photos are still only allowed to be made there. You vaguely recall an article in Computable that already referred to this: ‘‘Mistakes [with passport photos] could be prevented by making a digital photo of the passport applicants in the city hall, at the moment they make their passport application.’’ At the time (2011) this seemed enormously useful to the government. Henceforth no more hassle with professional photographers but high definition 3D photos taken straight away in a special Big Brother booth at the town hall, easy as that. Designed initially for E-Gates at Schiphol, then used for automatic facial recognition in shops and on the streets, eventually worldwide. A comparable Dutch plan was rejected in 2007 under pressure from the sector of professional photographers. Since that time our country was hit by one recession after the other. Meanwhile the Dutch privacy movement flourished. But that wasn't meant to spoil the 'fun'. Therefore it took the Dutch government a lot of effort to convince photographers that they could very well do without their passport photo revenues. Not to mention the privacy of Dutch citizens.

Will this be our future? Not if it’s up to Privacy First. We’ll keep you posted.

Published in Profiling

Last year the compulsory storage of fingerprints under the new Dutch Passport Act lead to turmoil on a national scale. This turmoil has been caused in particular by the enormous risks that accompany the storage. In order to contain the risks for citizens, the Privacy First Foundation brought into circulation a so-called Municipality Guarantee Letter (in Dutch: GemeenteGarantieBrief): by using this model letter citizens were able to obtain the guarantee from their municipality that their fingerprints would be dealt with carefully and that potential damage would be at the expense of the State. The Municipality Guarantee Letter turned out to be a great success. During a Dutch parliamentary debate the State Secretary for the Interior Ms. Ank Bijleveld described the letter as follows:

‘‘It’s a campaign by the Privacy First Foundation. This foundation submits a declaration about the storage of fingerprints to municipalities and asks council officials to sign it. They also have to indicate how they deal with the fingerprints and have to declare that they comply with certain guarantees.’’

The cause for this debate in the House of Representatives was the fact that the State Secretary had advised municipalities not to accept the letter, let alone sign it. Much to the annoyance of Dutch political parties as well as the National Ombudsman Alex Brenninkmeijer. Such letters should always be accepted by the government, according to the National Ombudsman. ‘‘There is a right to petition’’, Dutch newspaper Telegraaf quoted him as saying.

Recently the Dutch Interior Minister Piet Hein Donner announced that the storage of fingerprints by municipalities would be brought to an end at the end of July at the latest (after a modification to the municipal software). Moreover, plans for storage in a national database have been shelved because of privacy objections and the enormous percentage of errors in biometric technology. Yesterday (1 August) the Ministry of the Interior declared by telephone to Privacy First that the storage of fingerprints has now indeed been put to an end by all municipalities in the Netherlands, that is to say, it has been reduced to the duration in between the application and the provision of the passport or ID-card. With this the goal of the Municipality Guarantee Letter has for the most part been achieved.

Now another objective comes in sight: voluntary instead of compulsory storage of fingerprints in the document. To this end Privacy First has updated the Municipality Guarantee Letter to a new version: the Municipality Guarantee Letter 2.0. With this letter citizens can lodge an official protest to their municipality against the compulsory taking of fingerprints for a new passport or ID-card. Privacy First has already filled in a few possible objections in the model letter. Citizens can change or complete the letter to their own wishes. As of today, the letter is available for everyone on the website of Privacy First.

Privacy First expects that numerous citizens will make use of the new Municipality Guarantee Letter. This means the social resistance against the compulsory taking of fingerprints enters a new phase.

Download the Municipality Guarantee Letter 2.0 by Privacy First HERE.

Published in Actions

Shocking news today: the Dutch police wants to check fingerprints on the streets. An experiment with special finger-scan equipment is to start this fall.

Initially the aim of the experiment is to track down illegal immigrants and suspects of crimes. After that, attention will undoubtedly turn to all other citizens.

It was recently decided to halt the storage of fingerprints when applying for passports and ID cards on account of privacy objections and the enormous error rates (21-25%) in biometric technology. Such errors could lead to great numbers of innocent citizens ending up as suspects. Apparently the police is now accepting this risk. No doubt this is a six-figure deal: biometrics are big business. Similar, heavily criticized projects in Great Britain involved millions of ICT pounds.  

However, according to the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice there’s no problem:

‘‘Instead of people having to go to the police station, fingerprints are taken on the spot. This reduces bureaucracy, makes sure there’s more police out on the streets and improves criminal investigation.’’ (Source)

Privacy First stands up against this type of criminalization of public space. Fingerprints have to be taken of suspects at the police station. Not of ordinary citizens on the streets. Apart from violating people's privacy, this paves the way for arbitrariness, discrimination and ethnic profiling.

In the view of Privacy First, the scheduled experiment violates current privacy legislation. During the recent hearing about passport biometrics at the Dutch House of Representatives this was even confirmed by the Chief Information Officer of the Dutch Police itself:

‘‘When the identity of someone has to be ascertained out on the street, or when a passport is handed over, it’s not like the police immediately has a look, wherever... It’s not even allowed, but technically it isn't available either.’’
(A. Meijboom (CIO Dutch Police),
Round table about biometric data in passports, permanent commission for the Ministry of the Interior, Dutch House of Representatives, 20 April 2011.)

Everyone can draw their own conclusions from this.

Published in Biometrics

Today the situation has finally been saved: the storage of fingerprints under the new Dutch Passport Act has been done away with! Both the development of a national database as well as the current storage by municipalities are being stopped. The fingerprints of 4.5 million innocent citizens that have already been stored will now have to be destroyed. Moreover, the legal status of the national ID card will have to be modified in such a way that fingerprints will no longer have to be a part of this document. This will create an ID document for use within national borders that is without biometrics which means that a long-cherished wish of those principally aggrieved is being fulfilled. Last week Privacy First made all these demands in a letter to the House of Representatives and is delighted that all demands will now be met.

From the moment the new Passport Act came into force in the Summer of 2009, Privacy First has been opposing against it by whatever means were available. Today is an historic day: this day proves that social resistance pays off. Partly because of the pressure of our civil lawsuit together with 21 co-plaintiffs the new Passport Act has today effectively succumbed. We already predicted it months ago: one way or another (politically or judicially) we were going to win this case. Privacy First is determined to continue this development and to turn the Netherlands into a society that Dutch citizens deserve: a society in which faith and freedom are basic values once more and in which everyone’s right to privacy is being respected. To that end this victory over the new Passport Act is a crucial first step.

Published in Biometrics

Privacy First appeals to the Dutch House of Representatives to stop the storage of passport biometrics and to withdraw the new Passport Act.

Today the Privacy First Foundation has sent a letter to the Dutch House of Representatives with regard to the general meeting about the new Passport Act of 27 April 2011 with the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations Piet Hein Donner. This is the content of our letter:

No more than two years after the coming into force of the new Passport Act, this law is again high on the agenda of the House of Representatives. After having gone through a relatively inconspicuous parliamentary trajectory, the new Passport Act was accepted on 9 June 2009 without a vote in the Senate. At the time this came like a bolt from the blue for many: after all, there had hardly been any democratic debate about this far-reaching Act. Confronted with this fait accompli, one and a half years of increasing resistance followed in the form of citizens protests, petitions, scientific and political criticism, objection proceedings, lawsuits and even motions of disapproval by local councils. In that sense the new Passport Act is heading back to the House of Representatives like a societal boomerang. Privacy First hereby reiterates its main objections against the current Act:

- Under the European Passport Regulation the taking of only two fingerprints and a facial scan in a travel document is obligatory. This is for the (supposed) fight against fraud with those same documents. With the new Passport Act the Netherlands takes things much further by also storing these data (plus two extra fingerprints) in databases for a broad range of other purposes, among which criminal investigation and prosecution, counter-terrorism, disaster control and intelligence work in the Netherlands and in third countries. Considering the entirely unjustified and disproportionate character of this measure, this constitutes a collective violation of the right to privacy and physical integrity of every Dutch citizen with a new travel document;

- Most citizens have never been told about the above mentioned purposes in the new Passport Act; this constitutes a violation of their right to informed consent in the processing of their biometric data;

- Citizens who are willing to object against the compulsory storage are forced to undertake legal proceedings that take years, a period during which they must make their way through life without a valid travel and ID document, with all the disadvantages and risks this entails;

- The storage of biometric data (both in the travel document and in a database) creates a new form of fraud: biometric identity fraud. This type of fraud can stay undetected for years and haunt someone for the rest of his or her life.

- The same goes for the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)-chip in the document that can be read from a distance: this too creates news risks of identity fraud;

- The security of the storage in databases (be it a ‘centralized’ or a ‘de-centralized’ database) can impossibly be (entirely) guaranteed;

- Storage in databases is suitable for identification instead of verification and paves the way for function creep;

- During the issuance of the travel document generally no biometric verification takes place. Therefore it’s unknown to what extent the travel documents that have been brought into circulation under the new Passport Act function as far as the biometrics are concerned. In this respect it appeared, during the parliamentary Round Table about the new Passport Act on 20 April 2011, that there’s a percentage of error (when verifying fingerprints) of no less than 21%.

On account of these objections Privacy First makes an urgent appeal to the House of Representatives to immediately halt the storage of biometric data (in particular fingerprints) and to withdraw the new Passport Act of 2009 or to revise it along the following lines:

- Enrolment of biometric data is to become voluntary;

- Storage of these data in municipal or national databases is to be stopped;

- The Netherlands is to leave behind the current model of storage with municipalities and to opt for the German model characterized by voluntary storage in the chip of the document;

- For domestic use an alternative ID document without biometrics is to be developed.

Published in Biometrics

A broad international alliance of NGOs demands that there will be a European investigation into biometric data storage. Governments increasingly lay claim to people's biometric data (such as fingerprints), which are then stored on radio-frequency identification (RFID)-chips in passports and ID-cards. Some countries, such as the Netherlands, France and Lithuania go even further and store this information in databases which can be used for criminal investigation and prosecution.

The alliance of more than 60 organisations (including Privacy First) has urgently requested the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, Mr. Thorbjørn Jagland, to request the countries concerned for an explanation about whether or not their legislation on these matters complies with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as speedily as possible. The alliance is of the opinion that a thorough investigation is to be conducted on whether the guarantees and criteria of human rights with respect to the necessity, proportionality, subsidiarity and security guarantees that the ECHR demands for the use of biometrics, are in actual fact being adhered to. This is very much put in doubt by a recent report of the Council of Europe.

It is actually worth pointing out that the idea for the current European enrolment and storage of biometric data has partly come into existence in the Council of Europe itself, that is to say, at the behest of a few working groups that devoted themselves to combating terrorism around 2004. One of these working groups was the Group of Specialists on Identity and Terrorism (CJ-S-IT) which operated under Dutch chairmanship. In April 2004, this working group made the following recommendation:

 "The creation or development of systems which allow identity checks with reference
to civil status records and  registers and population registers to be carried out rapidly
(in particular by means of a centralised system) and in a reliable manner. (…)

Give consideration to and promote research and ongoing cooperation between police
scientists and institutions (…) in order to make greater use of scientific identification
of individuals, especially through the use of biometrics and DNA analysis,
most notably in their use in identity documentation.
" (Source, pp. 17-18. Other
documentation from 2003 to the present day can be found online HERE.)

Meanwhile, it is up to that very Council of Europe to map European national laws that since that time have lost their balance in this area. Where national laws do not respect human rights, the Member States in question are to be called to order. Privacy First looks forward with confidence to the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe carrying out these duties.
 

Logo of the alliance

Published in Biometrics

Rotterdam-Rijnmond police chief Frank Paauw is of the opinion that the DNA of all Dutch citizens should be compulsorily stored in a national database for the investigation of crime. He declared this in an interview in the paper of the regional political party Leefbaar Rotterdam ('Livable Rotterdam'). While according to police chief Paauw privacy is ‘‘a great asset’’, he thinks that massive storage of DNA can make the ‘‘world more secure’’.

In the paper of Leefbaar Rotterdam Paauw cites the 19th century French criminologist Alexandre Lacassagne who said that ‘‘every society gets the crime it deserves’’. For the Privacy First Foundation this includes privacy crime and we are eager to point to a more relevant quote by Benjamin Franklin: ‘‘Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.’’

Compulsory storage of the DNA of all Dutch citizens in a national database constitutes a collective human rights violation beforehand. The sheer disproportionate character of it already signifies a gross violation of the right to privacy and physical integrity of every Dutch citizen. Apart from the total lack of knowledge and respect for human rights that police chief Paauw expresses with his statements, this is also proof of an obsolete vision on society in which security and privacy have for years formed a false contradiction. Privacy is security: the personal security of the individual against a government that no longer trusts its own citizens and wishes to treat every Dutch citizen as a potential suspect. Privacy First wants to halt this development and move forward with a positive vision on society in which trust and freedom are basic values.

Update: Police chief Paauw gets no support for his plan whatsoever, neither from politics, nor from the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice. Dutch Minister Opstelten calls it ''disproportionate" and "beyond the pale''.

Published in Profiling
Page 3 of 4

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