Dutch plan single database for biometric data
The Dutch cabinet wants to save the finger prints and face scans of everyone in the Netherlands above the age of five in a single database. Parliament debates the issue on Thursday.
Dutch passports which have a chip already include a face scan and as from next year, new passports will also have four fingerprints. And if the cabinet gets its way, all this so-called biometric information will be stored in a central database. Supporters of the scheme say that this will make it easier to identify victims in a disaster and carry out criminal investigations.
The plan for a central biometric database is included in legislation proposed by deputy home affairs minister Ank Bijleveld (Christian Democrats) which is being discussed today in parliament.
A parliamentary majority is in favour of the proposal. Supporters say data is currently kept at around six hundred different locations, usually by local councils.
The Dutch draft legislation stems from a 2004 European Union regulation requiring fingerprints in all new passports from June 2009 so that documents can be verified and people properly identified.
The Dutch cabinet has added another goal with its plans for a central database: “to trace and prosecute those guilty of crimes and to investigate activities that pose a threat to the safety of the state.”
The public prosecution department will have access to the database in cases where serious crimes have been committed.
The European Commission representative in the Netherlands says it is unclear whether the plans of the Dutch cabinet go further than those of other countries. A survey in 2007 found that France, Latvia and Greece are also considering a central database for biometric information.
The Dutch cabinet says the current passport administration system is outdated. It says that when checking an individual’s identity it is sometimes necessary to consult existing documents. This process is very time-consuming because documents are often spread all over the country and sometimes even abroad.
In January 2004, the Dutch cabinet announced plans to develop a system to verify a person’s identity online as part of the war against terrorism. The Dutch Data Protection Authority has doubts as to whether such a system would be effective.
It points out that, according to a report from 2007, terrorists often carry out their activities with the aid of legal travel documents. The Data Protection Authority says too that the proposal is contrary to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights.
Peter van Koppen, professor of criminal psychology and chief researcher at the Dutch Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement in Leiden, says the database has too many drawbacks.
“The justice department will be conducting searches in a system with the fingerprints of many people who are not suspects.” He says that the more fingerprints there are, the greater the possibility of making mistakes. Van Koppen says the technique for recognising fingerprints is not a hundred percent reliable.
A Data Protection Authority report from 2007 also warns of the danger of placing all passport information in one central database. “Large collections of data are an attractive target for hackers and/or criminals.”
Does a central database really help to find and identify criminals? Van Koppen does not think so. “Not everyone is included. For example, the fingerprints of people living illegally in the Netherlands.”
The EU already has databases with biometric data
Schengen Information System (SIS): Data on stolen objects and people whose extradition has been requested or who are missing. Also, personal data of people from outside the EU who must be denied entry. A new system, SIS II, will also include fingerprints.
Eurodac: Fingerprints of asylum seekers to establish which country is responsible for the refugee application. The European Commission also wants to use it for law enforcement and as an aid in the fight against illegal migration.
Visa Information System (VIS): Data of people from outside the EU who want to visit an EU country.
European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS): For the exchange of electronic data from criminal records. Has not yet been set up.