French campaign against biometric ID card

jeudi 2 juin 2005, par Meryem Marzouki
Article published in EDRI-gram 3.11 (EDRI newsletter)

In a press conference held on 26 May 2005 in Paris, 6 organisations have launched a campaign against the French project of mandatory biometric ID card. The French Human Rights League (LDH), the union of magistrates, the union of French barristers, EDRI-member IRIS, DELIS (a coalition of more than 60 French NGOs and trade unions for the defence of privacy and personal data protection) and the French Association of Democrat Lawyers have published a joint position statement and have started a petition demanding the withdrawal of the project of the French Ministry of the Interior to introduce a mandatory biometric ID card (see EDRI-gram Number 3.8).

The ministry aims to provide the whole population by 2007 with an ID card with a contactless chip containing not only the civil status of the citizen but also two biometric identifiers : photograph and fingerprints. These data would be filed in centralised databases. The card will be mandatory and would also include the address of the holder. According to historians of the French identity system, the combination of these last two features was last used in the dark times of the Vichy regime. After the liberation the civil status information of French citizens was never centrally stored until 1987, but even since then, the change of address should not be mandatorily reported to the administration, in addition to the fact that the ID card itself is not mandatory.

"The project’s objective is to build a nation-wide centralised police file containing biometric data of all citizens, which may be read even without their knowledge", the 6 organisations told the press. "The government recognises that the ultimate goal of the project is to set up a universal card which integrates the identity, the benefit of social rights and the ability to make private transactions ; the idea is to make the individual totally transparent to both public authorities and commercial actors", they added. Moreover, the 6 organisations question the motivations of the French government, specially with regards to the fight against terrorism. They also insist on the fact that the French government has been unable to provide any statistics regarding identity fraud.

One of the main arguments of the French government is that mandatory biometric ID card are required by ICAO international standards and specially by the EU Council of ministers decision of 13 December 2004. However, as argued by EDRI-member IRIS during the press conference, these requirements only concern passports and travel documents. The EU decision explicitly mentions that national ID cards do not fall under the decision scope. Moreover, this decision has been made in the framework of Schengen agreements, which means that it does not apply to all EU countries. In addition, ICAO standards require only one biometric identifier (photograph), and, while the EU decision also makes fingerprints mandatory, this addition has been decided (following French demand, according to some) behind closed doors, thus avoiding re-examination of the text by the Europarl LIBE Committee. Thanks to the EU Parliament and to the Article 29 group of EU Data Protection authorities, a central database of biometric identifiers has however at least been avoided at the EU decision level.

Will the French member of the Article 29 group, the ’Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés’ (CNIL), try to obtain such a limitation at the national level ? According to François Gicquel, the CNIL Commissioner in charge of the dossier, "the CNIL has always had reservations on the constitution of central biometric databases". A first version of the draft law dated as early as mid-March 2005 was obtained by the 6 organisations and distributed to the press. However, by mid-May, the CNIL was still not officially asked by the French government for its consultative opinion. According to some, the CNIL has finally received a revised draft of the law shortly before the press conference.

On 1 June 2005, Air France has started a campaign of voluntary biometric (fingerprint) identification at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris (terminal 2F), in co-operation with the borders police. This experiment was approved by the CNIL, even though it implies the constitution of a centralised database, "because the program is voluntary". This program, called ’Pegasus’, allows for quicker and easier border control for travellers who register to the program. These travellers may be EU or Swiss citizens. One of the fears of the 6 organisations that denounce the mandatory biometric ID card project is that the use of biometrics becomes commonplace for daily activities. This new experiment shows that the danger is already there.


Original article published in EDRI-gram 3.11