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Article France: Biometric Passports

(June 2, 2008) On April 30, 2008, the French government issued a decree implementing biometric passports and creating a national database to store fingerprints, photographs, and information relating to the civil status of passport applicants. The decree was published in the official gazette of May 4, 2008. It is designed to comply with European Council Regulation No. 2252/2004 of December 13, 2004, on the Introduction of Common Security Standards and Biometrics into Passports and Other Travel Documents Issued by Member States.

The French passport will carry digital images of the bearer's face and eight fingerprints. Children under the age of six will not be digitally fingerprinted. Under the European Union regulation, Member States must issue passports able to store the holder's digital image and two fingerprints by June 28, 2009.

The decree was reviewed by the National Commission on Data and Liberties (Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés, CNIL), France's data protection independent authority, prior to its promulgation. The CNIL found that the decree exceeds the EU specifications by requiring eight fingerprints instead of two and by creating a national database. It stated that “although legitimate, the government's stated ends do not justify storage, on a national level, of biometric data such as digital fingerprints, and that the planned processing of such data will subject individual freedoms to excessive encroachment.” (CNIL Opinion 2007-368 of Dec. 11, 2007 on the Draft Decree Modifying Decree 2005-1726 of Dec. 30, 2005, on Electronic Passports [in French], available at

The government claims that the data processing is necessary to facilitate the establishment, renewal, and replacement of passports and to detect any falsification or counterfeiting. (Decree 2008-426 of Apr. 30, 2008, Modifying Decree 2005-1726 of Dec. 30, 2005, on Electronic Passports, JOURNAL OFFICIEL, May 4, 2008, at 7446.)

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