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Netherlands’ face biometrics database for non-EU individuals comes under scrutiny

Netherlands’ face biometrics database for non-EU individuals comes under scrutiny

Privacy advocates in the Netherlands have criticized the use of a biometric database by the police containing the faces of non-EU foreigners coming to live, work, study or ask for asylum in the country.

According to a (machine-translated) report by RTL News, the database contains eight million face photos of at least six and a half million people registered by the immigration administration upon entry into the country.

The Dutch publication also claims that these photos have been shared with police forces and used during criminal investigations via the ‘Catch’ face biometrics system for years without informing affected individuals.

The Dutch police also use a separate face biometrics database alongside the one above. This second collection of faces reportedly contains nearly three million entries of more than a million Dutch people and foreigners designated as suspects or convicted of a criminal offense.

“With these two databases, the police treat foreigners the same as suspects,” Fieke Jansen, a postdoctoral researcher at the Data Justice Lab at Cardiff University, UK, tells RTL News.

“Only because they came to the Netherlands from outside the European Union for work, study, a loved one or a refugee. If they had done something wrong, they would have been in that other database.”

At the same time, a Dutch police spokesperson told RTL News that law enforcement could legally search the face database with foreigners only after permission from a magistrate assessing whether the investigation is lawful.

“[We use the system] only if there is a reasonable suspicion that the suspect is a foreigner or if the investigation has reached a dead end. We cannot and should not use it lightly.”

The RTL News investigation comes weeks after Dutch forensic examiners discussed subjectivity in face biometrics investigations in an EAB Lunch Talk in December 2022.

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