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Biometric data open to abuse, says EU data supervisor

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Biometric data employed for identification purposes could be misused and lead to "function creep", the European Data Protection Supervisor has warned.

In a comment this week, the EDPS, who monitors the use of public data, said the ease with which biometric information, such as fingerprints, could be shared with other databases across the EU would leave it open to abuse.

The statement is in stark conflict with the UK government’s claims that biometric data used for its controversial ID card scheme will not be used for any other purposes.

The EDPS Peter Hustinx said the accuracy of biometric data in uniquely identifying a person is "overestimated", and could in fact "facilitate the unwarranted interconnection of databases".

Commenting on a European Commission paper last year on the interoperability of different databases across the EU, Hustinx said biometric data could not be guaranteed to provide the unambiguous 'primary key' required by most databases for identification. In many cases a primary key is a number unique to one individual.

As a result it could breach EU principles of data quality, Hustinx said.

A further concern is that because biometric data is not unique, it could lead easily be shared between different databases throughout the EU.

Ultimately, Hustinx warned, this could lead to function creep when the interlinking of two databases designed for two distinct purposes provides a third one for which they have not been built.

This is in turn would lessen the possibility of member state governments being able to supervise the protection of personal data.

Overall, the EDPS also said the EC’s paper had not given a clear definition of interoperability and called for further analysis in order to ensure protection of data.

He said: "The commission argues that interoperability is a technical rather than a legal or political concept. This is confusing and only serves to avoid fundamental issues. Interoperable systems increase the risks for citizens, if such systems allow for new access to their personal data. It is essential to examine this more carefully and not hide it as a technicality."

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