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  • Thierry Spanjaard

Fingerprints to be added to EU ID cards

The European Commission is actively pushing new measures that would imply adding fingerprints and other biometric data in all EU ID cards.

The goal of the project is to “tighten the screws until there's no wiggle room left for terrorists or criminals and no means for them to launch attacks,” said Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship. The measure will cover EU citizens' identity cards and non-EU family members' residence cards. European ID cards allow citizens to exercise the right of free movement in the EEA and Switzerland. As of now, more than 80 million European citizens have non-machine-readable paper-based ID cards, without biometric identifiers.

The European Commission will rely on ICAO standards to set up EU-wide ID card specifications, and mandate that EU citizens' ID cards (older than 12 years) and non-EU family members' residence cards should include biometric data, namely two fingerprints and a facial image, stored on a contactless-accessible chip in the cards. The Commission adds “this will be accompanied with stronger safeguards on who can access the biometrics.” In addition, the Commission expects to set up an ambitious agenda that calls for phasing out non-compliant cards at their expiry or at the latest within five years and for less secure ones (i.e. non-machine readable) within two years.

The situation is already extremely diverse across the EU. For instance, Belgium have biometric ID cards but do not store fingerprint data. In Germany, nationals can choose whether or not to have fingerprint data included. In Spain, new ID cards issued do include fingerprints.

Preserving everyone’s sensitivity, the Commission adds: “the proposed Regulation does not introduce compulsory ID cards across the EU.” As of now, most Anglo-Saxon countries (along with their citizens) have a strong aversion for ID cards. Mixing European and non-European ones, ID cards have not been issued to citizens of the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia nor New Zealand. In Europe, Denmark adds to the list of countries without ID cards.

However, for a few years, the Republic of Ireland has been issuing a biometric “passport card,” compliant with ICAO Basic Access Control (BAC) rules, and which is recognized as an international travel document allowing to cross borders within the EEA (European Economic Area), leading this passport card to have all characteristics of a national ID card.

In the UK, ID cards are always a political issue: Labour former cabinet minister Andrew Adonis said Remain supporters needed to show they were responding to the issues that led people to vote for Brexit. He suggested the UK should do more within existing EU rules to tighten controls on immigration, pointing out that Britain is the only country in the bloc not to have a national ID system.

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