Council of Europe refuses to investigate biometrics privacy

News & Analysis
Council of Europe refuses to investigate biometrics privacy

PI just received a response from Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland of the Council of Europe (CoE) stating that the CoE is refusing to start an investigation on the collection and storage of citizens biometric data by member states. On 31 March an international alliance of organisations and individuals lodged a petition calling on him to start such an indepth survey under Article 52 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

In his answer, received this week, Secretary General Jagland mainly points at the CoE Resolution 1797, adopted in March 2011. He does stress the need to take steps to ensure that relevant existing legal frameworks, including European dataprotection Convention 108, be enhanced and modernised. However, the Secretary General doesn’t explain his refusal to investigate the legality of the current national biometric schemes himself. Instead Mr. Jagland refers to various other Council of Europe bodies, such as the Parliamentary Assembly, the commissioner for Human Rights and the Consultative Committee of Convention 108.

In a first reaction to the response from Strasbourg an alliance spokesperson said: "The lack of protection of citizens rights against government use of biometrics is stunning. Moreover, the digital fingerscan technique itself is immature. For example a government test in the Netherlands, published after our petition, showed biometric verification failure rates of 21%. A test by the mayor of the city of Roermond revealed that for no less than one in every five persons collecting travel documents, the initial fingerprint scan had been so bad that it wasn't verifiable. So how can you ever reach the goals of the Passport Laws by storing these on the document chip? This confirms once again that an in-depth survey has to be conducted soon on whether the human rights guarantees and conditions of necessity (effectiveness, proportionality, subsidiarity and safety guarantees) set by the European Convention on Human Rights and the data protection Convention are indeed upheld in the countries involved."

The endangered rights mentioned in the petition of the alliance include the protection of human treatment (Article 3 ECHR), safety (Article 5), a fair trial (Article 6: presumption of innocence and the privilege against self-incrimination), physical integrity and family and private life (Article 8), effective national legal remedies (Article 13), non-discrimination (Article 14) and the right to leave your country (Article 2 Protocol 4).

The more than 80 petition signatories from 27 countries include among others 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.

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