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Security Union: new measures agreed to introduce biometric identity cards and a new database for convicted non-EU nationals
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MEPs approved this week new measures that will introduce mandatory fingerprinting for national identity cards and a controversial new database to make it easier for the authorities to find information on any previous criminal convictions handed down against non-EU nationals. The Parliament also agreed its position for a revamped Visa Information System that will permit the profiling of all short-stay Schengen visa applicants.

Fingerprints in identity cards

The proposal for a Regulation on security standards for identity cards and residence documents was put forward by the Commission in April 2018, with the aim of harmonising the format and standards of national identity cards and residence documents issued to EU nationals and their family members when they move to another EU Member State.

The intention was to decrease the possibility of identity fraud and to facilitate free movement - but the means for doing so included an obligation for national identity cards to introduce two biometric identifiers, a facial image and two fingerprints.

The Regulation does not introduce an obligation for Member States to introduce identity cards, or to make them obligatory for their citizens - but where national authorities do issue identity cards (and whether they are mandatory or not) they will now have to comply with EU standards.

The fingerprinting requirement, which will affect tens of millions of EU citizens, ran counter to the findings of the Commission's impact assessment that accompanied the proposal. That argued that the most proportionate policy option would have excluded fingerprints from identity cards.

Statewatch analysed the proposals in detail and, along with a number of other organisations, called on MEPs to reject the fingerprinting requirement in the run-up to the vote in the civil liberties committee (LIBE) on Monday 11 March. However, the measure was adopted with 30 in favour, 20 against and two abstentions.

The Parliament will still have to approve the measure in a plenary sitting, as will the Council. Member States will then have two years to apply the measures set out in the Regulation.

Provisional text as agreed by the LIBE committee: Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on strengthening the security of identity cards of Union citizens and of residence documents issued to Union citizens and their family members exercising their right of free movement - Confirmation of the final compromise text with a view to agreement (pdf)

See: Open letter to MEPs: oppose mandatory fingerprinting for national identity cards (Statewatch News Online, 8 March 2019)

Database on convicted non-EU nationals

On Tuesday 12 March, MEPs sitting in the Parliament's plenary session approved texts establishing a new centralised EU database, the European Criminal Records Information System on Third-Country Nationals (ECRIS-TCN).

This will hold identity information (biographical details, fingerprints and facial images) of non-EU nationals who are convicted in the Member States, to make it easier for the authorities to find information on those convictions should the individual face, in another Member State, criminal proceedings or enquiries which require access to criminal record information (for example, security vetting for certain types of job).

The current ECRIS system, which interconnects national criminal records authorities, makes it difficult to locate information on non-EU citizens as convictions are registered with the state of a person's nationality - by default, this can only work to its full extent for EU citizens, as non-EU citizens do not have a state of nationality in the EU.

A controversial aspect of the system will see dual nationals - those holding both an EU and non-EU citizenship - included in the system, which the Meijers Committee of experts on international law described as "incompatible with the prohibition of discrimination expressed in international human rights law."

This is because the measures introduce differential treatment for EU citizens based on whether or not they also hold the nationality of a non-EU state. A Statewatch analysis (pdf) also raised this issue and highlighted a number of other concerns.

Despite MEPs originally opposing this demand from the Commission and the Council, they eventually caved in. The Member States were insistent on closing a potential loophole that may have allowed people to "hide" one of their nationalities behind another.

However, documents released to Statewatch following a request to the Council show that, while they may have identified this loophole correctly, not one single Member State has any data to demonstrate that the issue in question is a problem to which the proposed response is proportionate.

A key question sent to all Member States was:

"Do you have information about how many people have informed the competent authorities, during criminal proceedings against them (and at the latest upon conviction), that they are both EU nationals and have the nationality of a third country?"

The Spanish delegation perhaps best summed up the general response from national authorities, when it replied: "No idea."

See: Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a centralised system for the identification of Member States holding conviction information on third country nationals and stateless persons (TCN) to supplement and support the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS-TCN system) and amending Regulation (EU) No 1077/2011- Compilation of replies from Member States to questions in WK 3806/2018 (WK 4207/18, 12 April 2018, pdf)

And: Fighting crime: faster EU-wide exchange of non-EU nationals' criminal records (EP press release, link)

Revamped Visa Information System

On Tuesday, MEPs also approved the Parliament's position for negotiations with the Council on new rules governing the Visa Information System (VIS), the giant database that holds information on all short-stay visa applications to the Schengen area.

The Council and Parliament are in agreement that the system should be extended to include information on long-stay visas and residence documents (whose issuance is a national competence), in order to allow for better security checks on individuals.

The Parliament is also, like the Council, of the position that the minimum fingerprinting age should be lowered to six years old, from the current age of 12. This could lead to up to one million children being fingerprinted, in the name of improved child protection - yet a study on the issue found just "a few anecdotes… on cases where a visa was refused to a child because of suspected risks for trafficking. In these cases the children were mostly older than 12."

The proposals for the revamped system also include a profiling function, which will see applicants for short-stay visas have their data compared to "specific risk indicators".

Numerous aspects of the proposals have been criticised by data protection authorities, most recently by the VIS Supervision Coordination Group (SCG, made up of the data protection authorities of all EU Member States participating in the VIS) - although their suggestions came too late for the Council to take any of them into account.

See: Upgraded EU visa information database to increase security at external borders (EP press release, link)

Text adopted: European Parliament legislative resolution of 13 March 2019 (pdf)

See also: Visa Information System: child fingerprinting and police access proposals criticised by data protection authorities (Statewatch News Online, 21 January 2019)

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