DNA, facial images and fingerprints: German biometric police systems contain 10 million people

Police authorities are increasingly requesting biometric data, more and more often with success. The search is carried out in German and European information systems. However, the results are not always trustworthy.

Since 2008, German police forces have been able to search biometric photographs in the INPOL file at the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). For this purpose, the authorities use a facial recognition system (GES), which is also made available via the BKA. Currently, about 5.5 million portrait images of 3.6 million persons are stored there for search purposes. This is what the Federal Ministry of the Interior writes in its answer to a parlamentarian question by the Left Party. In addition to the BKA, the Federal Police and the State Criminal Police Offices can also use the GES. In 2021, the authorities made a total of 90,425 queries there, an increase of about 20 per cent compared to 2020. 4,990 persons were identified, compared to 4,403 the year before.

Data collected in identification after arrest or asylum application

The LEFT MEPs inquire annually about storage in German and European police databases, so the figures are comparable to the previous year. According to them, the number of photographs in the GES has decreased by about 400,000. The reason given by the ministry is that more entries were deleted than added.

The centrally stored photos originate either from identification measures after an arrest (3.2 million) or in the area of the Asylum Act (2.2 million). All persons seeking protection have to hand in their biometric data when applying for asylum in a member state of the European Union.

Facial recognition system to be renewed

The facial recognition system in use since 2008 is made by the company Cognitec from Dresden. For years, the BKA has been planning to renew it and, together with the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research, has examined software available on the market, including from the manufacturers Cognitec, NEC, AnyVision, Idemia and VisionLabs.

The systems examined are based, among other things, on „machine learning methods, in particular Deep Convolutional Neural Networks“, writes the Ministry of the Interior. The result states that the Cognitec software in its current version „no longer meets all police requirements on its own“. However, a replacement has not yet been ordered.

Fingerprints on 5.5 million people

To an increasing extent, the federal and state authorities are also making use of fingerprint comparison. In the „Automated Fingerprint Identification System“ (AFIS), 5.5 million personal records are currently stored (2020: 5.3 million), as well as about 546,00 unsolved crime scene traces. The DNA analysis file, also kept at the BKA, contains about 837,000 samples of identified suspects (2020: 870,000) and 384,000 records on unknown wanted persons.

German authorities can also access around 6.5 million fingerprint sheets in the Eurodac file through their participation in EU information systems. The Visa Information System (VIS) contains considerably more fingerprint data, but no searchable, with around 55 million data sheets. Police forces from Germany submitted a total of 1,404 requests for access to these data in 2021.

13 false hits in the Schengen Information System

Since 2018, the Schengen Information System (SIS II) has also offered the possibility to search fingerprints stored there with an AFIS; for more than a year, connection to this SIS AFIS has been mandatory for all Schengen member states. Currently, about 294,000 dactyloscopic data records are stored in the SIS II. Last year, the German authorities obtained about 23,800 hits, which is more than four times as many as in the previous year.

However, the data sheets found did not always prove to be correct. According to queries of the SIS-AFIS, 13 hits from Germany were detected as false and reported to the European Agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems (eu-LISA). Another three false hits were detected by German authorities in Eurodac.

Image: EU JRC.

Autor: Matthias Monroy

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