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EU plan to reform asylum and migrant biometrics collection still in the works

EU plan to reform asylum and migrant biometrics collection still in the works

The European Union is inching towards finalizing the European Asylum and Migration Pact, a complex package of asylum and migration policy reforms that includes boosting the collection of biometric data in Eurodac. But non-governmental organization Statewatch warns that despite lawmakers reaching a political agreement on the key issues of the Pact in December, many of its details are to be decided in the following months.

Last week, State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor announced that the bloc had begun technical discussions on the Pact’s texts in January. The next ministerial conference is scheduled for April 28 to 30.

“We are fully committed to implement what we have decided, and we need to start taking concrete steps in that direction,” says de Moor.

Statewatch has published consolidated texts of two of the new laws, including the Eurodac Regulation and the Asylum Procedure Regulation.

Eurodac (European Dactyloscopy) is the EU’s fingerprint database for identifying asylum seekers and irregular border-crossers. The political agreement on the EU Asylum and Migration Pact, which includes the Eurodac Regulation, was reached in December 2023, confirming the bloc’s plan to expand the database to a much larger system that will contain additional biometric data such as facial images.

According to EU lawmakers, an update of the Eurodac Regulation will make it possible to track irregular movements. Law enforcement agencies will also be able to tap into Eurodac to investigate terrorist or other serious criminal offenses. However, Europe’s initiative to expand the capabilities for collecting biometrics from asylum seekers has prompted criticism from civil society groups – and, more recently, EU agencies.

This week, European Data Protection Supervisor Wojciech Wiewiórowski outlined the legal risks connected to managing biometric data, including those to Europol.

“The fight against human trafficking and migrants is an important objective and it is a common goal in the interest of everyone,” he says. However, there is “no proof that the foreseen measures in the regulation are justified.”

Wiewiórowski added that there should be clear and binding mechanisms and rules that will reduce risks for people, according to InfoMigrants, a news site co-financed by the EU.

Data management is not the only issue that is troubling EU agencies and civil rights defenders. Under the new Pact, the collection of biometric data will become mandatory for persons over six years of age, a move that has raised concerns among institutions such as UNHCR and UNICEF.

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