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EU Agency for Fundamental Rights reports on risks of biometric IT systems

Author: huifan   Time: 2018-03-29

Biometric IT systems can be valuable for combating identity theft and tracing missing migrant children, but pose significant risks to fundamental rights such as fair treatment within asylum procedures, according to a new report from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA).

The EU has developed several large-scale IT systems to deal with migration and security challenges, and has half a dozen proposed amendments, expected proposals for amendments, and planned new systems. The report, titled “Under watchful eyes – biometrics, EU IT-systems and fundamental rights” suggests ways to better defend the rights of those affected by systems for border, visa, and asylum control.

Roughly half of the European border and visa officials interviewed for the report acknowledged data entry mistakes in the systems, with causes such as misspellings, lack of interpretation, and fingerprints being assigned to the wrong person. The FRA also describes risks associated with hacks and data breaches.

“IT boosts efficiency but what are the risks to fundamental rights?” asks FRA Director Michael O’Flaherty. “This question, often posed but rarely examined in detail needs close attention to ensure the rights set out in the EU’s Fundamental Rights Charter are upheld. Adequate safeguards will help minimise rights violations and build trust in the greater use of IT systems for enhanced security and smoother migration flows.”

The FRA also says that nearly one in three EU border guards has found children flagged as missing, demonstrating the positive value of biometric IT systems.

Authorities often find it challenging to provide understandable and transparent information about fingerprint collection, the FRA notes. Among the opinions presented in the report, the FRA says challenging conditions of fingerprinting often make it difficult for staff to adequately respect the dignity of people being fingerprinted, and that EU Member States should never use force against children or deprive them of liberty to force cooperation in fingerprint collection.

UN and civil society groups recently issued a joint statement calling on the EU to refrain from coercion in collecting biometrics from children.