Classic Function Creep As EU Police May Gain Access To Asylum Seekers Fingerprint Database
from the exceptionally-common-situations dept
As Techdirt readers well know, one of the problems with measures brought in for "exceptional situations" -- be it fighting terrorism or tackling child pornography -- is that once in place, they have a habit of being applied more generally. A case in point is the blocking of Newzbin2 by BT in the UK. That was possible because BT had already installed its "Cleanfeed" system to block child pornography: once in place, this "specialized" censorship system could easily be deployed to block quite different sites.
Another, more recent, case from the EU involves Eurodac, a database with fingerprint information provided by asylum seekers there. Here's the original justification for storing them:
The database was originally established in 2000 so EU nations could check whether an asylum seeker had previously applied for asylum in another European country or was receiving social benefits from another EU country. According to EU law, asylum seekers can apply for asylum only in the EU nation where they first entered the bloc.
But the politicians have noticed that this biometric data could be handy in quite different circumstances:
such a rich source of existing data has recently sparked the interest of other parties. If the EU Commission's requests are followed, Eurodac fingerprint data will be accessible to police officers during investigations. The commission's proposal envisions national law enforcement agencies and Europe's supranational criminal police commission, Interpol, being able to access the database.
Of course, allowing the police to check people's fingerprints in this way would have serious implications for privacy. Indeed, Peter Hustinx, head of the European Data Protection Supervisor, has already weighed in on the subject:
"Just because data is being collected doesn't mean that it should be used for another purpose, especially since that can have a hugely negative effect on the lives of individuals," said Peter Hustinx, head of the European Data Protection Supervisor.
And that really is the nub of the issue: people who agree to provide highly-personal data for one purpose, may then find it being used for another, without being asked. And if the European Commission gets its way, even more data will be shared:
"The Commission would generally like to widen its collection of data and make available any information regarding criminal prosecutions," [Green Party MEP] Keller said. "One example is the so-called 'Smart Borders' package, which actually wasn't proposed this round but has been in the pipeline for a long time. The idea there is that in the future anyone from non-EU countries that would like to travel into the EU will be recorded electronically, which also includes fingerprints."
As more and more biometric data is collected around the world, this kind of function creep is likely to become increasingly common.