Analysis says proposed Eurodac children’s biometrics collection carries legal risks

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Proposed amendments to the Eurodac biometric system, which would make official the lower minimum age for biometrics collection and add five new categories of personal data storage, come with several fundamental rights risks, the European Law Blog (ELB) reports.

Eurodac is the European Asylum Dactyloscopy, the EU’s biometric database for asylum seekers and irregular migrants, and proposed amendments were published by the European Council in September to codify a provisional change made in 2018 to lower the minimum age for migrant biometrics collection from 14 to 6 for the purposes of family tracing and reunification. As far back as 2017 the proposal raised concerns from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.

While recast again this year, human rights groups have continued to argue that minors’ human rights and physical integrity could be significantly impacted by the amendments.

Implemented in 2003 and covering 32 European countries, the database was designed to help EU member states determine responsibility for processing an application under the Dublin System, yet a recast regulation in 2015 allowed law enforcement agencies access to biometric data to prevent and detect serious crime.

The Eurodac database currently processes biometric data from asylum seekers and migrants who have been apprehended in an irregular crossing. Equipped with an Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), Eurodac stores a full set of fingerprints collected from migrants and compared against already stored data. Data from asylum seekers is stored for ten years, and irregular migrants’ data is stored for eighteen months. Under the regulation, states must also collect facial images to facilitate identification, and the phrase “fingerprints and facial image” is replaced throughout the amendment proposal with “biometric data.”

ELB suggests that the efficiency of facial image collection from minors however, is compromised due to facial changes that occur with age, therefore making the system potentially inaccurate.

Currently Eurodac shares interoperability with five other EU agencies, which by addressing migration, security and crime as one, can result in treating migrants as a general threat, says ELB. Agency eu-LISA will meanwhile be allowed to create cross-system statistics using interoperable data, to be accessible by the European Border and Coast Guard among others for further information gathering on third country nationals.

The amended Eurodac proposal has not yet been adopted, but is expected to pass, and be followed by the implementation of the Interoperability Regulation in 2022. Whilst the long-term implications of collecting and selectively sharing children’s and migrants’ biometric data are unclear, it is important that data protection, human rights, safety and accountability are taken into consideration by the EU.

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