Council of Europe urged to make use of biometric data more transparent

31 March 2011 – In response to concerns that European governments are collecting increasing amounts of biometric data from members of the public, Access Info Europe has joined an international civil society alliance in calling on the Council of Europe to collect and publish information about the legal framework regulating biometrics.

In a petition sent by more than 80 organisations and individuals from 27 countries to Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland urging an urgent review of whether national laws are in line with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.

The concern is that the collection and storage of biometric data such as fingerprints and facial scans, as well as tracking using chips in passports and ID cards might infringe or be used to infringe basic rights such as right to family and private life, presumption of innocence, non-discrimination and the right to leave ones country.

Access to information is a fundamental human right that permits civil society to monitor possible threats to civil liberties. The public has a right to know about the full impact of national legislation on biometrics on rights such as the right to privacy (Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights).

“It is essential to have clear information about the existing use of biometrics in order to be able to assess whether fundamental rights are being violated,” commented Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe which signed the petition.

The civil society alliance is calling on the Council of Europe to use its powers as the guardian of fundamental rights to obtain from member states an overview of the current patchwork of national laws and to assess whether rights protected by the Convention are being violated in the name of defending democracy.

In a democratic society the collection of the biometrics of an entire population is a disproportionate and unnecessary interference with the right to privacy and other rights,” said Simon Davies of Privacy International, which co-ordinated the petition initiative. He gave an example of the risks saying that “most countries are keen to fingerprint groups and populations of people who have committed no crime, thus increasing the chances of identity fraud.”

The signatories of the petition include digital, civil and human rights defenders, media, legal and medical organisations, academia, politicians and personal victims without a passport because of objections involving the biometric storage.