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France announces plans for centralised biometric database

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France announces plans for centralised biometric database

November 2016

Plans have been announced in France to compile one unified database which will comprise the biometric data taken from the passports and identity cards of 60 million citizens.

The measure - which was confirmed by Government decree rather than being debated in the French National Assembly - will see a person's name, gender, date and place of birth, height, eye colour, and address held on the central database. Each person's photo, fingerprints, contact details and the details of their parents including nationalities and names, will also be stored, it has been confirmed.

It is hoped that the new database - to be called Titres Electroniques Securises (TES) - will not only make creating and renewing ID documents such as passports and driving licences easier and quicker, but will also help to stamp out the pressing issue of identity fraud.

France also attempted to create a biometric database in 2012, however France's constitutional council rejected some of the plans due to the fact that some parts of the database were too broad in scope and also that the police would be able to identify individuals based on biometric information. However, the French Government has said that the new database will not be used to identify people, only to authenticate them. Only those aged under 12 will not be required to provide the necessary biometrics to compile the database.

Concerns are already being raised about the proposed new database, including whether the use of a decree rather than a law to introduce it was the appropriate method. Other issues include the cyber crime element, with fears that the database could be hacked and, if it was, this would compromise the personal details of millions of people. As biometrics cannot be altered in the way that passwords can be, if they were to be lost, the issue would be a serious long-term one.

Indeed, ARS Technica UK quoted politician Jean-Jacques Urvoas as writing in 2012: "No computer system is impenetrable. All databases can be hacked. It's always just a matter of time."

French watchdog the National Digital Council (CNNum), which analyses the impact of technology on society - urged the decree under which the database was announced to be suspended as it had been issued “without prior consultation” with suitable experts. However, French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said that, far from being rolled out on the quiet as suggested by some critics, the database announcement was made in a "transparent" way and approved by each of the “concerned ministers and the Prime Minister, after the usual inter-ministerial consultations.”

CNNum said that a centralized system such as this database was akin to “the door open to misuse that is as likely as it is unacceptable."

Indeed, the body added: "Presented as a way to fight against document fraud, this system may nevertheless be subject to legal requisitions or used by the specialized intelligence services.”

Ploughshare has various biometric based technologies available for license.

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