ID cards could be changed again to include biometric data

The European Commission has put forward a proposal that would see ID cards across the union include fingerprints and facial recognition in order to facilitate travel across borders and security across the EU

Maltese ID cards were overhauled back in 2012 to include an eID chip that allows the card to be machine-readable
Maltese ID cards were overhauled back in 2012 to include an eID chip that allows the card to be machine-readable

Maltese identity cards could be set to include biometric data under European Commission proposals for all member states, although Malta appears not to be supporting the measure yet.

In April the Commission put forward the proposal that would see ID cards across the union include fingerprints and facial recognition, as has already been rolled out with passports. It is envisaged that non-compliant forms of ID cards across the union would be changed within five years, while “less secure forms” would be phased out within two years.

Malta would be one of 16 countries where citizens would be obliged to provide their fingerprints for ID cards. The process will cost millions of euros to upgrade to new ID cards.

According to the European Commission’s own impact assessment the proposal would mainly seek to address the current insufficient acceptance of ID documents in other member states, and document fraud and lack of authentication ID documents.

The EC says this generally results in increased burden and cost for citizens moving from one state to the next, as well as being a threat to security for member states.

In fact, the proposal is part of a wider framework that aims to give law enforcement authorities better access to bank account information inside national centralised registries, as well as better sharing of information between national Financial Intelligence Units. 

While the Commission said the proposal would “positively affect” the citizens’ fundamental right on freedom of movement and of residence, the civil liberties NGO Statewatch has argued that the measures are unwarranted. “The introduction of some mandatory EU-wide standards for identity cards may well be justified – but the proposal to fingerprint 175 million people as part of that is irrelevant and unjustified,” the NGO said in a position paper published this week.

According to the NGO, the Commission did not sufficiently demonstrate that biometric ID documents are justifiable for security reasons.

Referring to a European Court of Justice case from 2012, the NGO said that while the mandatory inclusion of fingerprints in passports was justified to prevent illegal entry into the EU, “in the context of ID cards, the threshold for satisfying the necessity test may be higher, because ID cards are compulsory in some member states in which fingerprints are not currently collected.”

This, it said, was even mentioned in the Commission’s own impact assessment of the proposal which found that a standardised system, without obliging citizens to provide fingerprints was “more efficient and proportional”.

Despite this, the Commission was insisting on proposing mandatory profiling through facial recognition and fingerprinting.

The NGO expressed its hope that member states that had explicitly stated that they did not see the necessity of a legislative measure on ID cards, which included Malta, would oppose the introduction of the measure within the European Council, while also urging the European Parliament to reject it.

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