EU defends plans to fingerprint all European citizens
( dpa )- EU officials on Thursday defended plans to add fingerprints in new European passports and store them in a centralized database, saying they were willing to address privacy concerns.
The proposal was quietly launched in Brussels on October 18 by Franco Frattini, the EU's justice, freedom and security commissioner, just as European leaders gathered for an important summit in Lisbon.
But it only came to the fore this week, when the head of the European data protection watchdog (EDPS), Peter Hustinx, highlighted a series of concerns.
These include plans to fingerprint children as young as 6 years old and elderly people who would be physically unable to provide theirs.
The EDPS's main worry, however, concerns the creation of a centralized database, which would hold a copy of fingerprints belonging to all EU citizens.
Civil liberties advocates fear that such a database could be violated and used for criminal purposes.
Frattini's office on Thursday rejected calls for the 6-year-old exemption limit to be raised to 14 years old so that it may be brought "in line with international practice", arguing that the measure was needed to prevent child-trafficking.
Officials also said they were willing to address Hustinx's concerns about the centralized database and respond within "a matter of weeks".
"We have just received the comments, and we want to take them serious," said Friso Roscam Abbing, Frattini's spokesman.
"Surely, creating big databases poses data-protection challenges, nobody will deny it. However, precisely because we are aware of those challenges we will do everything that is needed to address them ... and ensure that we are taking duly into consideration all legitimate data protection concerns," he added.
Officials in Brussels also argued that a growing number of EU citizens no longer fear being likened to potential suspects simply because their fingerprints are taken, noting that biometric data of this kind has become increasingly common, for instance as an added security measure in laptops.
Slovenian Interior Minister Dragutin Mate, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, acknowledged to Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa that the proposal will likely encounter difficulties when it is due to be discussed by the European Parliament and by member states.