Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/03/14/eu_frattini_biometric_stop_scan_u_will_comply/

Eurosecurocrat plans EU-wide stop'n'scan plodnet

Frattini: 'Compliance will come with time'

By Lewis Page

Posted in Government, 14th March 2008 08:02 GMT

Analysis Euro security uberboss Franco Frattini, seeking to justify planned EU border-control measures including a stringent biometrics regime, has made a series of interesting (that is, entertaining/weird/worrying) statements.

Speaking to a ministerial conference in Slovenia this week, Frattini said that certain people including journalists and "opinion-makers" had questioned the need for a technological ring of steel around the EU border.

"My answer to these concerns is clear and simple," said Sr Frattini. "Take a look at the results of EURODAC."

As he didn't at any point in the speech make clear what EURODAC even stood for - let alone exactly what it was - there may be some quibblers who'd say that this wasn't an entirely clear and simple answer. But those who regularly read EU press releases will have known at once what EURODAC is.

Under the EURODAC system, participating States have to promptly take the fingerprints of each asylum seeker [who admits to being] over the age of 14... These fingerprints are then compared with fingerprint data transmitted by other participating States stored in the central database. If EURODAC shows that the fingerprints have already been recorded, the asylum seeker can be sent back to the country where his/her fingerprints were originally taken...

The database does not contain details such as the name of a person because it relies only on biometric comparison, the safest and most accurate available identification method...

EURODAC consists of a Central Unit within the Commission equipped with a fully automated, computerised central database for comparing fingerprints and a system for electronic data transmission between each participating State and the Central Unit. Every necessary measure has been taken to guarantee the security and protection of the data registered.

The total Community budget allocated for EURODAC is €13.6 million.

In other words, EURODAC means that an asylum seeker gets only one shot at entry. If you fail to be allowed in once, you can't then keep trying in different EU countries.

"Migratory pressure remains high," according to Sr Frattini. "People continue ... to steal into the EU illegally. We have to address these issues with resolve...

"With the advent of EURODAC, false asylum seekers gradually understood that they could no longer cheat Europe's asylum system and started to abandon the practice of submitting multiple asylum requests. False asylum seekers realised that the EURODAC system, based on biometric identifies (i.e. fingerprints), could not be beaten.

"The results are there before us."

So EURODAC - and by extension, biometric border controls - are great, because it prevents false asylum seekers from flooding in and taking our jobs/becoming burdens on our welfare/etc? Well, no, actually. Sr Frattini then spelt out the results which are there before us.

"Asylum applications have significantly dropped. Yet the number of refugees who have [been given leave to remain] has not been reduced as a result of EURODAC. Exactly the opposite has happened."

Print these two fingers first

In fact, following EURODAC, the number of asylum seekers gaining EU residence has gone up, even as the number of applications has gone down. If we were letting in hateful economic migrants masquerading as asylum seekers before, then we almost certainly still are; and EURODAC has not helped at all.

But hey - at least EURODAC proves that it's safe to trust the EU and member states with linked biometric databases, right?

"The experience gained with EURODAC shows that there has been no misuse or misconduct in data handling," said Sr Frattini. "I do not see why the future handling of entry-exit data should not be governed by the same data protection framework, which, as I said, has proved to be good at ensuring privacy and efficient management of data."

Well, kind of. Actually the EURODAC database is nothing like the proposed new biometric-passport/national-ID ones. For a start, it contains information only on foreigners; and very little even of that. Just fingerprints, times and locations. No names, no addresses, no way of linking onwards to financial or medical or current location information. As a tool for criminals or an oppressive EU/member government, EURODAC is fairly useless.

But the European Commission would like to suggest that the fact of nobody having abused the EURODAC data means that routine fingerprinting at EU borders is a good thing.

"We all know that most illegal immigrants are... third-country nationals," according to Mr Frattini. How true.

"Police authorities can do very little against this growing phenomenon, which engenders fear and insecurity among Europe's citizens... police authorities have limited means of identifying a third-country national in the street if he/she does not carry an identity document."

Of course, the carded-up foreigner could always claim to be a local citizen, not (yet) required to carry a permit to be in the street. But Sr Frattini has a plan for this.

"Police authorities will have a mobile device, which will enable police officers to take fingerprints on the spot. In a few seconds, the police will be able to retrieve the data of any third-country national who has crossed Europe's external borders, thereby catching anyone who has lied about his/her residence status."

That's fine, provided we're all happy to be stopped and fingerprinted in the street if (in the judgement of a policeman) we look a bit foreign. Of course, routine police stop-and-fingerprint checks combined with different biometric ID databases would seem to offer other possibilities. Let us say that we are some righteous counter-terror cops, who have a terrorist's fingerprints - perhaps because he is a non-EU national, legally present in the EU.

We could arrange that the system flag this miscreant up if he should be stopped and printed on the street. Bingo - terrorist bagged. Given the current climate of fear, such a plan should follow the introduction of border biometrics about as fast as the London congestion-charge cameras were plugged into the secret terror police - quite fast, then.

Once that's in place, why not check fingers against a register of prints found at ordinary crime scenes? Only the guilty would have anything to fear.

Why not, in fact, also allow the cops to be notified when a citizen of interest to them is street-printed, or indeed whenever a citizen needed to prove their identity? The planned national ID database would make it easy. That way, if the plods wanted to chat to someone they could find that person easily, even abroad. The person of interest would pop up on the network map every time they were street printed, every time they went in and out of a secure area, perhaps every time they used public transport or drove through a toll booth or bought anything or logged onto a biometrically-secured service of any kind.

And hey - you could use all this to find out if benefit cheats were working, or not actually disabled. You could find out whether people were complying with restraining orders or ASBOs. Of course, the UK jails are actually already full, so maybe you couldn't do much about these things; but one can always build more jails.

You could find out if people had lied to tax authorities and insurance companies about where and how they spent their time and money - or told similar fibs on their childrens' school applications, perhaps.

Are we getting close to home yet?

"Compliance will come with time," said Sr Frattini, going a bit ED-209 for a moment - ED-209 Italian style, anyway.

Apart from all that, a network accessible within seconds from a handheld police scanner would seem to be one which might conceivably get hacked now and then. So it might not just be the government doing all these things to terrorists and criminals and fraudsters. It might be almost anyone, doing it to you and me. Or it might be almost anyone misleading the government into thinking that you are in fact a terrorist, criminal or fraudster.

And, as ever, make sure you don't ever antagonise anyone with access to that net. To be on the safe side, best never sleep with a copper, taxman, benefits or council official, insurance investigator or school administrator. Or, if you do, don't two-time them or dump them. Or any of their friends or relatives.

We're all in the same boat

But this is surely no more than irresponsible scaremongering. You don't need, as a UK citizen, to be on any biometric databases under Sr Frattini's plans - though you will have to go through a different and probably much slower channel at immigration.

So just enjoy the benefits - like a slightly increased number of asylum seekers, which is obviously great.

No but wait, there's more.

"As soon as the system starts to operate, third-country nationals will realise that the only way of getting into Europe is via legal channels," said Sr Frattini.

"This will also have a very positive 'side effect', namely, reducing the number of people trying to cross the Mediterranean and the Atlantic in rickety boats, as they will be aware that their biometric identifiers will be immediately taken and thus they will have less chance of slipping through the net."

Huh? So my prints got taken when I made a fraudulent asylum application, which was turned down and I got deported. Then they got taken again when I came back on a rickety boat, and I got deported again.

Why does that mean I won't just get on another rickety boat? Will the fear of getting my fingerprints scanned one day in a stop-and-search and being deported again prevent me, when I'm not afraid of drowning in the rickety boat? When my alternative to living in fear of a fingerprint scan is living in fear of war, or ethnic cleansing, or torture, or just plain old starvation and poverty?

In fact, the EUROSUR maritime radar net plan seems more like an answer to the rickety-boat problem. But that needn't involve Orwellian fingerprint checks on every street.

And one might, even then, speculate that the present reproductive failure of wealthy Europeans (who will probably live to great ages at enormous cost) doesn't sit terribly well with a policy of mostly excluding any new arrivals willing to work hard for not much cash. Presumably the long-term plan will be to have robots look after the elderly and do all the hard work, like in Japan.

Really, this explanation doesn't seem clear or simple at all. ®