EU: Ongoing deployment of biometric identification systems likely to exacerbate ethnic profiling

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According to a report released today by Statewatch.


Building the Biometric State: Police Powers and Discrimination examines the progressive development and deployment of biometric technologies by EU institutions and Member States over the past two decades. It finds that the EU has provided at least €290 million of public research funding to projects aimed at advancing biometric techniques and technologies, and that policy development and implementation has been propelled by secret police and political networks that operate with little or no democratic oversight. It also provides case studies examining the deployment of biometric technologies in France, Italy and Spain, highlighting some of the issues likely to arise as these technologies become more widely used.

The report comes at a time when the EU’s ‘interoperability’ initiative and border policies are giving new impetus to biometric registration of foreign nationals and an increase in identity checks within the EU, in the hope of detecting people who do not have the appropriate documents. He argues that the treatment of skin color as an indicator of immigration status, the existence of a huge database containing only data on foreign nationals (the Common Identity Repository, currently under construction) and explicit political instructions to step up identity checks in order to carry out removals are likely to exacerbate the racist policing and ethnic profiling that is endemic across the EU.

“Building the Biometric State” argues that renewed efforts on multiple fronts are needed to ensure that state authorities are held publicly and politically accountable, and to develop more just and equitable alternatives to status quo: know your campaigns for rights and community organization; administrative and legal claims to enforce privacy and data protection rights; adequate resources and independence for data protection authorities; “firewalls” between the police and public services; critical research and investigative journalism to inform campaigns and complaints; publicly funded research that acts in the public interest; and efforts to ensure transparency in legislation, policy-making and enforcement.

At the same time, the report warns that while it is easy to simply focus on the myriad new technologies used by authorities, it is crucial not to distract from the structures behind them: new technologies may increase the ability to harm, but are not necessarily the driving force.

The report and data on public research funding are available here.

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