by Linda Housman
June 8, 2012 – Stored fingerprints and photographs from Dutch passports could be confiscated by authorities in the United States. Dutch Home Affairs Minister, Liesbeth Spies, considers this as a real possibility because the Dutch passports are produced by an American company. Via the Patriot Act, the Dutch biometric data can be claimed. Gerard Schouw, MP of the Dutch D66 – D(emocrats since 19)66 – party, says the Minister should take action.
The fingerprints and facial scans from the passports and identity cards of all Dutch citizens are not stored safely, Minister Spies acknowledges in response to parliamentary questions by Gerard Schouw. The D66 MP already asked these questions in Parliament in February. Spies now admits that the database full of fingerprints and photographs of the Haarlem-based company Morpho B.V. “in theory” can end up in the hands of the U.S. government.
Commissioned by the Dutch government, Morpho produces passports and ID cards for citizens. Because the parent company of Morpho, the Safran Group, is located in the United States, the company falls under U.S. law. Minister Spies says it is “not likely” but also “not excluded” that the U.S. government on the basis of the Patriot Act could confiscate the Dutch biometric data.
Morpho so far did not receive a request to hand over the data. According to Spies, American judges will never give permission to follow such request, because the European and Dutch law and sovereignty should be respected. An interesting detail is that the Minister in spite of that has ordered Morpho to take measures.
Spies wrote to the Parliament she will exclude the “hypothetical case” that personal data of Dutch citizens are ordered to be provided to U.S. authorities. The examination solution will take six weeks.
Schouw calls the whole case ‘incomprehensible’. “The government should protect the privacy of citizens, but this is another typical case where the government has lost grip. People who provide their fingerprints in order to receive a passport or ID card, now suddenly can become a suspect of a crime and be treated like that. This while biometrics are not not infallible; misrepresentation and identity fraud is a real possibility. The margin of error with scans of fingerprints is actually 20 percent.”
On June 7, Schouw filed a motion to urge the Dutch Parliament to find a solution via the European Commission for the ongoing arguments between the Netherlands and the United States regarding the exchange of personal data.
“The Dutch government is not protecting its citizens’ privacy sufficiently”, he stated that day in newspaper Volkskrant.
The obligation to provide and store fingerprints for travel documents has been a controversial issue since a long time in the Netherlands. Also the government’s plans to realize a national database of fingerprints for biometric passports is widely criticized. Last year the Dutch government dismissed the plans to store fingerprints for all documents other than passports and ID carts; all already stored fingerprints had to be destroyed by the municipalities.
However, in 2009 is – initiated by the Netherlands – agreed on European level that everyone who requests for a new passport or ID card should provide a fingerprint, this to avoid so-called ‘look-a-like fraud’, travelling with a passport of someone one looks like.
Dutch newspaper De Twentsche Courant Tubantia, June 7, 2012
Dutch newspaper Metro, June 7, 2012
Dutch newspaper Volkskrant, June 7, 2012