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Groups say Greece migrant biometric data collection will violate human rights

Groups say Greece migrant biometric data collection will violate human rights

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Homo Digitalis say a planned police program in Greece to obtain the facial and fingerprint biometric data of migrants is inconsistent with laws on privacy and is likely to increase discrimination.

Greek police signed a contract with Intracom Telecom in 2019, a global telecommunication company, to help create a “smart policing” program at an estimated cost of €4.5 million (US$5.1 million). About 75 percent of the funding would come from the European Commission’s Internal Security Fund.

The policing program will use devices that can scan vehicle license plates, faces, and collect fingerprints. The biometric and biographic data could be immediately referenced against 20 databases held by national and international authorities, and HRW says at least one database may already be collecting biometric data in public spaces.

The database will immediately delete the fingerprints of a person if there is no match, but photos are kept for seven days. If there is a match, the fingerprints, and photographs are retained for an unspecified number of days, according to HRW.

Greece says the system will improve efficiency to identify undocumented migrants, but HRW reports that Greek police have carried out abusive and often discriminatory stop and searches of migrants and other marginalized populations. The human rights organization adds that even when documents are presented, migrants and undocumented are detained for hours at a police station in a discriminatory fashion based on appearance, race, and perceived nationality or ethnicity.

The system was due to launch in early-2021, and Intracom has been paid in full, but the biometric devices appear yet to roll out to officers on patrol.

“The European Commission is funding a program that will help Greek police to target and harass refugees, asylum seekers, and minority groups,” says Belkis Wille, a senior crisis and conflict researcher at HRW. “In a country where the police frequently demand to see documents without reasonable cause, this program would deliver a tech-driven tool to ramp up abuse.”

HRW also alleges that the police program would not comply with Greek and European law on privacy. It points to the Law Enforcement Directive (LED) also known as the EU Directive 2016/680, that runs in parallel with the EU’s privacy and data protection regime, the GDPR. HRW says Article 8 and Article 10 stipulate the lawful collection and processing of personal data, and protect for special categories of personal data, including data that reveals racial or ethnic origin.

The Hellenic Data Protection Authority has been investigating the legality of the smart policing program since August 2020 from a request by Homo Digitalis, a Greek digital rights organization.

Konstantinos Kakavoulis, co-founder of Homo Digitalis, says, “This policing program is in fundamental conflict with the essence of human dignity and the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms in public spaces. The Greek government should not ignore the high risk this program will pose for enabling unchecked control if it is launched.”

HRW says there are alternatives to smart policing that do not violate privacy laws, and the European Commission should “not fund any policing programs that collect personal and biometric data in ways that violate international human rights standards or the data protection standards enshrined in EU Directive 2016/680.”

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