Biometric data from multiple databases to be merged into a European „identity repository“

Under the catchword „interoperability“, several EU databases will be pooled together. Fingerprints and facial images should be stored with personal data in a „common identity repository“. This applies above all to so-called third-country nationals. A big order for the surveillance industry will probably go to France.

The major EU databases currently hold more than 53 million fingerprints. This was written by the European Commission in response to a question by left-wing MEP Cornelia Ernst. The unpublished list has been sent by the Commission as an annex. According to this, almost 48 million data sets are stored in the Visa Information System (VIS), over five million in the Eurodac fingerprint database and 121 000 in the Schengen Information System (SIS II).

The databases of the EU police agency Europol also contain 9,000 impressions, some of which are biometric data from crime scenes (so-called latent fingerprint traces). For comparison: In 2015, the German fingerprint system, which is operated by the Federal Criminal Police Office, stored 3.2 million high-quality records of several fingers and 422,000 fingerprint traces of unsolved criminal cases.

SIS II now also with fingerprint system

Eurodac was the first EU database to process fingerprints of migrants when it was set up in 2003. The file is intended to help border and aliens authorities to check whether a third-country national has been issued a residence permit by another Member State. Since 2011, the VIS database, in which Member States store personal data on every application for a Schengen visa, has been in operation. Most recently, in March this year, the Schengen Information System was given the opportunity to identify people using fingerprints.

For the first time, the Commission is also providing information on the „Automatic Fingerprint Identification Systems“ (AFIS) that are used in Eurodac, VIS and SIS. According to this, the large EU databases use biometric recognition systems installed by Idemia (formerly Morpho) from France and Gemalto from the Netherlands. The AFIS at Europol comes from the European group Sopra Steria.

Search portal for querying multiple databases

The large EU databases are now to be merged, the Commission already presented a draft regulation on interoperability. A uniform „European search portal“ (EPS) is planned, which queries several databases for a police inquiry. Biometric data already available in Eurodac, the Schengen Information System or the visa database, together with the associated personal data, would be stored and searchable in a „common identity repository“ (CIR).

A „biometric matching service“ (BMS) is also planned, which runs in the background and checks every new entry with already existing data. If fingerprints or facial images already exist for a person, the qualitatively better ones are retained. Finally, a „multiple-identity detector“ (MID) will be introduced to compare fingerprints and facial images with related personal data.

Central system for 425 million euros

The merging of the „data pots“ is a project pshed by the former German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU), for the implementation of which the regulations for Eurodac, SIS II and VIS must now be amended. The planned „Entry/exit system“ (EES), which covers all border crossings at the EU’s external borders, and the EU-wide „Travel information and authorisation system“ (ETIAS) for the early declaration of planned border crossings would also be included.

The establishment of the central system is expected to cost at least 425 million euros over the next ten years, and additional funds are needed to connect the national systems in each member state. It is unclear which company will be awarded the „interoperability solution“. According to the Commission, the fingerprint systems used in the Schengen Information System and the Visa Information System could serve as a basis for the development of the „biometric matching service“. In this case, the contract would again be awarded to the French Idemia Group. Once the regulation for the „interoperability solution“ has been adopted, technical implementation could begin in 2020.

Image: Fingerprint system by French company Morpho (all rights reserved Morpho).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.