Article Netherlands: Centralized Fingerprint Database for Passports

(Oct. 6, 2009) It was reported on September 18, 2009, that the Dutch government will store in one database the fingerprints required of citizens in applying for a new passport, a measure that goes beyond current European Union requirements. As of September 23, 2009, every Dutch passport applicant must allow the municipality to take four fingerprints, two of which will be saved on the passport in a microchip. All four prints will at first be stored by the local government, but ultimately they will be incorporated in a central “travel document administration.” The Ministry of Home Affairs plans to use the centralized database to better combat identity fraud (it would facilitate checks of persons who apply for a second passport under a different identity); to improve handling of cases of lost or stolen passports; and to pursue criminal offenses and investigate potential threats to national security, two objectives set forth in the new Dutch Passport Act (of Sept. 26, 1991, as amended on June 11, 2009, effective June 28, 2009). In connection with the need to investigate possible terrorist threats, the country's national intelligence and security service (AIVD) will also have access to the database. (Wilmer Heck & Annemarie Kas, Fingerprints in Passports Can't Be Used by the Police – Yet, NRC HANDELSBLAD, Sept. 18, 2009, available at; Paspoortwet, OVERHEID.NL, (last visited Oct. 1, 2009).)

Under EU regulations, biometric data must be included on passports to help combat identity fraud in Europe. (See Regulation (EC) No 444/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 May 2009 Amending Council Regulation (EC) No 2252/2004 on Standards for Security Features and Biometrics in Passports and Travel Documents Issued by Member States, OFFICIAL JOURNAL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION L 142/1 (June 6, 2009), available at
.) Reportedly, some other EU Member States (Belgium, Finland, France, and Greece) have plans for similar databases, but the Netherlands is the only one to have approved by law a centralized fingerprint database, which has yet to be built. (Heck & Kas, supra.)

In the view of researcher Annemarie Sprokkereef of Tilburg University's Institute for Law, Technology and Society, the temporary solution of using local databases before completion of the centralized database is “the worst conceivable situation,” because several crucial issues, such as who will have access to the data, the possibility of linking fingerprints to the wrong person, and the tightness of security of the databases, have not been addressed. (Id.)

The additional (non identity fraud-related) purposes for which the database may be used have also given rise to criticism. Previously, the Dutch Data Protection Authority (CPB) questioned the permissibility of public prosecutors using the system to track down and identify criminal suspects, deeming it a “serious violation of personal privacy since even the data of citizens who are not suspects are included in the register.” Sprokkereef pointed out, moreover, that “too much confidence [is placed] in biometric data as an infallible means of identifying someone.” (Id.)

Countering the criticism, Deputy Home Affairs Minister Ank Bijleveld stated that the central fingerprint database could only be used by justice officials for identifying suspects: “[f]inding a fingerprint at the scene of a crime and then searching for a matching suspect in the database is absolutely not allowed.” Nevertheless, section 4b (4) of the Passport Act states that it is also permitted, in cases of serious crimes, for fingerprint data to be provided. (Id. & Paspoortwet, supra.) While Bijleveld pledged that restrictions on access to the data for identification purposes by the justice department would be incorporated in the legislation, there is concern that future governments might relax the limits. Bijleveld acknowledged that [i]n the long term, of course there could be a need for wider provision of the data. But that is up to our successors to evaluate.” (Heck & Kas, supra.) (See also Annemarie Sprokkereef, Dutch Citizens Face Lack of Transparency About the Use of Their Biometric Data, Tilburg University website, Sept. 22, 2009, available at

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