November 7, 2016 -
France unveiled last week plans to build a single, unified identification database containing the biometric data from the passports and identity cards of 60 million citizens, according to a report by Ars Technica UK.
The measure went uncontested in the French National Assembly as it was announced on a national holiday by government decree.
The proposed database will contain the person’s name, date and place of birth, gender, eye color, height, address, photograph, fingerprints, email address, along with the names, nationalities, dates and places of birth of parents.
The purpose of the database is to make it easier for citizens to obtain and renew identity documents, as well as to help the government combat against identity fraud.
This marks the second attempt by the French government to develop a massive, centralized biometric database, following efforts by Nicholas Sarkozy’s right-wing government in 2012 to pass a law proposing a similar database.
In that case, France’s constitutional council ultimately shut down the law over reasons that the database’s scope was too broad, and that the police would ultimately use it to identify individuals from biometric data.
The French government insists that the new database will only be used to authenticate individuals, and not to identify them. In other words, the database will be used to check that people are who they say they are, and not to find out whose biometrics have been discovered at the scene of a crime.
However, a loophole in France’s legal framework would allow intelligence services and police to use the database to identify suspects provided “violations of the fundamental interests of the Nation and acts of terrorism” are involved.
A report by NextInpact brings up the point that once the database comes to fruition, law enforcement and other agencies will inevitably request to use it for identification purposes “because it is there”. For this reason, the constitutional council may block the new order just as it did with the previous law.