French NGOs : no consensus possible on biometric ID-card

mercredi 29 juin 2005, par Meryem Marzouki
Article published in EDRI-gram 3.13 (EDRI newsletter)

A coalition of 6 French organisations against the French biometric card project INES (among them EDRI-member IRIS, see EDRI-gram 3.11) remains convinced that ’no consensus is possible’ to accept the project if modified according to the suggestions made by the Internet Rights Forum (’Forum des droits sur l’Internet’ or FDI, a private association mainly funded by the French government.) The Forum was asked to organise a public debate about the project. The results were published on 16 June 2005 and presented to the French ministry of Interior.

The FDI organised both online and off-line debates between February and May 2005. Public meetings were held in 6 main French towns, and the online forum collected over 3000 messages from 683 unique contributors. In addition, a poll was conducted amongst a representative sample of 950 persons.

Although the poll showed that 74% of the respondents are in favour of the INES project, 75% in favour of a national fingerprint database and 63% in favour of making the biometric ID card mandatory, the online and off-line debates also produced strongly argumented criticisms of the INES project.

As a follow-up, the FDI report calls for a number of actions and modifications : better studies on identity fraud ; the de-coupling of the project from the passport system ; studies on the risks of using a single identifier ; shifting responsibility for the project to the data protection authority ; the creation of a new social contract between the citizen and the state ; studies on the contact-less nature of the chip ; a clear statement from the Government on whether the card will be required for commercial transactions ; assurances that the card will be free at enrolment (though individuals could be charged for renewal or loss) ; and a clear Parliamentary debate on the obligatory nature of the card.

The dangers highlighted by the report confirm the earlier fears and warnings of the NGO coalition. However, the report fails to address the main issue with a biometric ID card ; the profound change in the relation of power between the citizen and the state, as noted by the French NGO coalition in a press release published on 20 June 2005.

The coalition remains convinced that the project should be withdrawn and that a truly large public debate should be opened. A petition calling for such a debate has already been signed by 1500 organisations and individuals within 1 month, among them members of the French Parliament.

`The social contract remains founded on the presumption of mutual trust and on the preservation of everyone’s freedoms`, the coalition reminded, rejecting the FDI proposal of a so-called ’social contract’ where the citizen may obtain ’online, free and permanent access to his administrative files’ in compensation of ’an increased control of his individual identity and identity documents’ by the State.

It is likely that the project implementation, or even discussion by the Parliament, will be postponed. The new French Interior minister declared in a public meeting on 20 June that the project `will profoundly impact the daily life of French citizens for a long time. If European provisions impose us to quickly set up a biometric passport, the situation is different for the electronic ID card. I don’t want us to engage in this project without having taken the necessary time to think about all its consequences.` Indeed, rumours indicate that the draft law has been withdrawn from the French Data Protection Authority, which is now waiting for the new version. But there is no sign that the new project will show more than minor changes : `the question is not to discard evolutions which, for some, are necessary, but rather to identify where we want to go, at which conditions, and at which price`, the Interior minister added.

Original article published in EDRI-gram 3.13