European Data Protection Supervisor Peter Husinx has said that proposals announced last month by the European Commission to tighten border controls through the use of biometric identification have failed to consider privacy implications closely enough.
"It is crucial that the impact on the privacy rights of individuals crossing the EU borders is adequately taken into account," said Hustinx. "A lack of data protection safeguards would not only mean that the individuals concerned might suffer unduly from the proposed measures, but also that the measures will be less effective, or even counter productive, by diminishing public trust in government action."
EU commissioner for justice, freedom and security Franco Frattini announced proposals for an electronic entry and exit register for non-EU visitors, a border surveillance system and improvements to existing border control arrangements. He proposed a greater use of biometric technology to identify people.
Hustinx, though, said that Frattini's plans contained weaknesses and were not based on sound evidence of the problems generated by existing systems.
"Proposals for the creation of the entry-exit system and the Electronic Travel Authorisation System rely heavily on the use of biometrics," said a statement from the office of the EDPS. "Although offering considerable advantages, the use of biometrics presents inherent weaknesses (mainly in terms of accessibility and accuracy) that will need to be properly addressed."
Hustinx's office also said that it was unclear that the scale of the problem demanded systems which could threaten people's privacy rights. "The immigration figures contained in the impact assessment published by the Commission are based mainly on estimates or samples, not on undisputable data. Infringements on the privacy of individuals should be based on solid grounds, clearly demonstrating their need and how extensive they should be," it said.
The EDPS also drew attention to the large number of proposals recently made by Commission officials to deal with border controls.
"The EDPS is concerned that far reaching proposals intended to contribute to the monitoring of travellers (e.g. Second-generation Schengen Information System (SIS II), Visa Information System (VIS), review of Eurodac Regulation, Passenger Name Records, etc.) are succeeding each other rapidly, making it difficult for stakeholders to have a comprehensive overview," said the statement.
The European Commission's focus on border controls has been motivated by concerns about immigration and by worries about security in the aftermath of several terrorist attacks this decade, including those in New York and Madrid.
"We cannot have mafia or traffickers or terrorists using better technology than our police," Frattini said at the most recent announcements of new measures.
As well as creating new databases, the Commission is proposing new uses for existing ones. It wants, for example, to use the passenger name record database of information on airline travelers to help it to predict who is likely to commit crimes.