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Statewatch warns of worsening ethnic profiling risk in EU as identity systems expand

Statewatch warns of worsening ethnic profiling risk in EU as identity systems expand

Monitoring organization Statewatch warns that new biometric identity controls used by police and immigration authorities in the European Union could see ethnic minority citizens and non-citizens subjected to unwarranted intrusions into their lives. Its new report also warns readers not to get caught up in the new technologies coming online, and to consider the structures and policies behind their use.

‘Building the Biometric State: Police Powers and Discrimination’ hopes to find ways to hold authorities publicly and politically accountable for what it foresees as increasing discrimination as a result of biometric policy and technology. It calls for a “firewall” between policing and public services.

The report provides an overview and twenty-year timeline of the EU’s plans and actions for biometrics. It states that on the one hand, the bloc has invested at least €290 million (US$322 million) in public research into biometric technologies since 1998. On the other, the biometric boom has been fuelled by “secretive police and policy networks that operate with little or no democratic scrutiny,” allowing the use of biometrics to spread from police stations, to the streets and borders.

It scrutinizes the Common Identity Repository which is being built to contain solely the data on foreign nationals living in the EU. Statewatch fears that the database, plus the bloc’s drive for interoperability for border policies will increase the pressure for biometric registration of foreign nationals and more checks aimed at detecting those without the correct documents.

Skin color could become a “proxy for immigration status” as technology makes identity checks ever easier to conduct.

Statewatch hopes that the slow progress on the Common Identity Repository could mean opportunity to conduct data protection impact assessments along the way.

“In a context of systemic racism and discrimination and a continued drive by both national governments and EU institutions to identify increasing numbers of foreign nationals in order to deport and/or exclude them from their territory, the attempt to extend and entrench the deployment and use of biometric technologies must be interrogated and challenged, as part of the broader fight against state racism and ethnic profiling, and for racial equality and social justice,” states the report.

Biometrics firms benefiting from EU research funding

The report includes figures for spending on research by sector and country, with the UK topping the list at €26.2 million ($29.2 million). “Private companies, along with state-backed research institutes and higher education institutions, have been the most significant financial beneficiaries of research into biometrics, a fact that is particularly pronounced in the security research programme,” states the report.

There is a list of the top 20 beneficiaries of research funding for biometrics. Topping the list is Idemia with €7.2 million in funding for the Seventh Framework Policy (FP7) for research (2007-2013) and €2.3 million during Horizon 2020 (H2020, 2014-2020). Portugal’s Vision Box came fourth with a total of €4.6 million, Spain’s Atos came tenth with €3.1 million, Germany’s Veridos received €2.7 million placing it twelfth, France’s Thales came 14th with €2.6, Norway’s Zwipe was 18th with €2.3m.

“It must also be noted,” according to Statewatch, “that even if a research project is ostensibly geared towards the use of biometrics for commercial, health, or otherwise more ‘benign’ purposes than for policing or immigration, it is still designed to further the use of advanced techniques of data processing and surveillance, and the basic technology itself may very well be adapted for other purposes.”

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