Guest Writings
  
25/11/04 FREEDOM, what crimes are committed in thy name? by Edward Teague

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We are all born free. We are all born with nature's bar code, a fingerprint. It is unique, we share it with no-one, but if all goes to plan you will share its image with every law enforcement agency and God knows who else besides, who has access to the EU database. Everyone qualifies; you don't even have to commit a crime. Or even be arrested and not charged, you simply have to apply (and pay) for a passport, so that you may freely travel about the EU.

Of course this will take time, it is therefore alarming that legislation is being hurried through at breakneck speed to lay the foundations for this frightening prospect. It is another alarming tale of how we are all being subjected to the introduction of draconian State Powers in Europe – so that George Bush can fight his exceedingly personal War on Terror.

The Council of the European Union (the 25 EU governments) has asked that the EC adopt with “urgency” to rush through the legislation for mandatory fingerprinting and biometric passports for all EU citizens at its plenary session next week (1-2 December). Msr Jean Claude Piris asks in his letter of 23rd November 2004…”Le Conseil d'adopter d'ici la fin de 2004 les propositions de la Commission sur l'incorporation d'elements biometriques dals les passeports et les visas en vue de la mise au point des specifications techniques que la commision doit adopter dans le [E1]meme delai”.

The letter has attached the Draft regulations on biometric passports sent to the parliament in on February 18th a proposal for a binding Regulation to bring in biometric personal data – a facial image with an option for fingerprints as a second identifier – on all EU passports. Everyone wanting a passport will have to “enrol” in “enrolment centres” (that sounds somehow friendly, voluntary) where their pictures will be taken with special cameras. These “pictures” will be digitised and made into a template, which will be put onto a microchip in the passport (which may be a paper passport or a plastic card). These “pictures” and identifying personal data will be placed on national databases, which can be accessed by law enforcement agencies (police, customs, immigration and internal security agencies). The proposal is that a “facial image” will become the primary biometric identifier and the decision to include fingerprints, as a second would be up to decision-making at national level. An Action Plan adopted on 25 March called for the measure to be adopted by the end of the year 2004. These proposals including fingerprinting are backed by Italy, Germany, France, Greece, Spain, Malta, Lithuania, Poland and Slovenia – only Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Latvia oppose the plan for fingerprinting to be included. Furthermore both the UK and Germany want to have a third biometric – “iris scans” in addition to facial scans and fingerprints.

Question: Are you personally happy with compulsory fingerprints for all EU citizens via a biometric passport?

Josep Borrell: As you are no doubt aware, this is a requirement imposed by the US authorities. The Council has fallen into line with them, whereas our Parliamentary Committee would have preferred a different approach. It will continue to debate this matter, weighing up the pros and cons of an option whose implications, including its technological implications, have still to be fully assessed. As things stand, the matter has not yet been officially referred back to Parliament.

Excerpt from Europolitix Interview with President of the European Parliament Josep Borrell, Mon, 15 Nov 2004.

“this is a requirement imposed by the US authorities. The Council has fallen into line with them, whereas our parliamentary committee would have preferred a different approach” says it all.

On 25th March the Council changed these measures to include making facial images and finger-prints mandatory. The Conference of Presidents in the European Parliament, that is the Group Leaders will decide on Thursday 25 November, how to respond to this request for “urgency”. It is said that backstairs manoeuvring by the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the European Union is pushing hard for a decision at its plenary session in Brussels on 1-2 December on the grounds that a decision is urgently needed to meet the deadline set by the USA under its Visa Waiver Programme for its Visa Waiver Program. That means the EU are required to dance to the US tune, appropriately on US Thanksgiving Day.

One of the great problems in understanding the EU is the problems of terminology. Under the European Parliament's rules, a request can be made by (1) the Parliamentary President (following a request from the Council), (2) a committee, (3) a political group or (4) at least 37 members of the parliament. The “debate” on an “urgency” measure is not a debate at all – the only speakers allowed are the mover, one speaker in favour and one against plus the chair of the committee/or the rapporteur. The decision to pass the measure under the “urgency” procedure could be announced on Wednesday 1 December and voted on the next day.

Another terminological problem relates to the International Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standard which says:

“Facial recognition was selected as the globally interoperable biometric for machine-assisted identity confirmation with MRTDs [Machine Readable Travel Documents]”

“Facial recognition” can mean

1. Simple digitisation of current passport photos – this is not a biometric. Simply it is another way of holding the standard booth photograph. The technology is not in place and will not be for a long time in most countries. So the initial proposal is to rely on “the high resolution electronic portrait” or in plan language the photos currently used and taken in a photo booth. – this they will “digitise” and put on the chip – which will allow “one-to-one” checks to be made at “borders” (external borders certainly but also probably internal borders). Much later at an “enrolment centre” facial recognition systems with a digital photo will be taken. This “facial scan” will plot 1,800 distinctive features of your face, then be transferred to a template and the image transferred to the microchip in your passport.

2. “Facial recognition”, or “facial image” in the Council's draft, can be read as simple digitisation or to a “facial scan” which is a biometric (the scan collects up to 1,820 characteristics from each individual's face). “Facial recognition” not fingerprints were selected as the global standard by the ICAO. The use of two fingerprints is purely an economic decision, basically it costs 5 times less than the ten fingers most of us have, and the number of sets required for “enrolment centres” and border posts, databases etc., would be, given current technology too expensive. The USA does not (yet) require fingerprints to be used in foreign countries passports nor does it require it of the 8% of their population who have passports. Note the UK and German governments want iris scans as well.

Article 18(3) EC of the Nice Treaty is quite clear about the EC's powers to dictate the rights for free movement of EU citizens:

    “shall not apply to provisions on passports, identity cards, residence permits or any other such document”

So what is the rush to push through legislation December 2nd for the compulsory use of fingerprints on EU documentation, passports, visas, etc.? Is it possible Security Blunkett would welcome such a move so that he can say that he HAS to incorporate fingerprints, nature's own bar code on everybody's passport and his new ID card?

Again it appears that the US in its manic global War on Terror is making the rules for everyone else, and that the UK in concert with most in Europe are bending over backwards to accommodate them.

What's next? Compulsory DNA testing? Of course the Security Blunkett is rather keen on that as well especially for cuckolded husbands.

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