Legality of fingerprint database to be tested in court
A Dutch student has refused to submit fingerprints for his passport. His case will soon be heard by a judge.
Utrecht law student Aaron Boudewijn was the first to refuse to give up his fingerprints for the new biometric passport introduced in the Netherlands last September. He is now appealing a government decision to deny him a new passport.
Boudewijn tried to acquire a fingerprint-free passport in September last year, apparently just after September 21, the last day these passports could berequested. However, the lengthy appeals process for municipal decisions – passports are issued by city authorities - meant the student could only take the matter to court this week.
Boudewijn not opposedhis prints being included in the passport, a requirement under European regulations. He is challenging the Netherlands’ decision to store all fingerprints in a separate database.
The student is supported by privacy watchdog Vrijbit, which had already filed a complaint against the Dutch state with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg last year. The organisation argues that citizens who regret submitting fingerprints will be unable to have them stricken from the record. An earlier attempt to stop the Dutch state from setting up the database was rejected by the court.
Vrijbit, along with a similar foundation named Privacy First, has set up an online petition protesting the passport law. So far 6,400 people have signed this petition.
Boudewijn has yet to file his appeal, but he plans to cite the same case law Vrijbit used when it sued the Dutch government in the European Court: S. and Marper v. United Kingdom.
A 12-year-old's fingerprints
In this case, the court chastised the British government for its refusal to remove a 12-year-old’s DNA from a central registry. The child had innocently been caught up in a criminal case. The court ruled the preservation of the DNA a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to privacy.
The EU regulation that obliges the 25 countries that have signed the Schengen agreement on open borders to include fingerprints in their passports has “the specific intention to verify a documents’ authenticity and establish a reliable connection between the document and its bearer,” Vrijbit states on its website. The Dutch state has taken advantage of this regulation to set up its own database that will be used for judicial ends, and be accessible to intelligence agencies, according to the watchdog. Vrijbit argues this is “a violation of fundamental rights” protected by the European Convention.
Deputy national affairs minister Ank Bijleveld has countered that a passport database is not comparable to a criminal registry as in the UK case, but Boudewijn is not convinced.
The student now uses an ID card for identfication purposes instead of a passport, but that will soon expire. “Then I will no longer be able to function in society,” Boudewijn said in a recent radio interview. Every citizen over 14 is required to carry proof of identity in the Netherlands. Working and voting is also impossible without it.