MILLIONS OF CHILDREN TO BE FINGERPRINTED
Jamie Doward, home affairs editor
Sunday July 30, 2006
possibly as young as six, will be subjected to compulsory fingerprinting under European Union rules being drawn up in secret.
The prints will be stored on a database which could be shared with countries around the world.
The prospect has alarmed civil liberties groups who fear it represents a 'sea change'
in the state's relationship with children and one that may lead to juveniles being erroneously accused of crimes. Under laws
being drawn up behind closed doors by the European Commission's 'Article Six' committee, which is composed of representatives
of the European Union's 25 member states, all children will have to attend a finger-printing centre to obtain an EU passport
by June 2009 at the latest.
The use of fingerprints and other biometric data is designed to prevent passport fraud
and allow European member states to meet US entry visa requirements, but the decision to fingerprint children has disturbed
human rights groups.
The civil liberties group Statewatch last night accused EU governments of taking decisions
in which 'people and parliaments have no say'. It said the committee's decisions were simply based on 'technological possibilities
- not on the moral and political questions of whether it is right or desirable.'
'This is a sea change,' said Ben Hayes, spokesman for Statewatch. 'We are going from
fingerprinting criminals to universal fingerprinting without any real debate. In the long term everyone's fingerprints will
be stored on a central database. You have to ask what will be the costs to a person's privacy.'
According to secret documents obtained by Statewatch, the committee will make it compulsory
for all children from the age of 12 to be fingerprinted. However, several of the committee's member states are lobbying to
bring the compulsory age limit down. Sweden tells the committee it 'could agree with a minimum
age of six years for passports'.
meanwhile, observes that it has collected the fingerprints of five-year-old asylum seekers with no 'significant problems'.
Since February the Home Office has been fingerprinting children as young as five at asylum centres in Croydon and Liverpool. It took the decision amid concerns children were being registered by several families in
order to claim more benefits.
Refugee support groups, including the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants,
have described the action as 'intrusive'. The JCWI also expressed concerns that fingerprints kept on file could be held against
children if they tried to return to the UK
in later life.
Fingerprinting young children is considered difficult because their fingers have yet
to fully develop. The European Commission notes: 'Scientific tests have confirmed that the paillary ridges on the fingers
are not sufficiently developed to allow biometric capture and analysis until the age of six.'
A commission spokesman said initially only member states would have access to their
citizens' fingerprint data. However, after the Madrid bombings
the commission signalled its intention for all fingerprints to be stored on one database that could one day be accessed by
each EU state. 'Whether access for third countries will be allowed has to be decided by the EC at a later stage,' the spokesman
said. 'Nevertheless, full interoperability is ensured, should the EU decide to give access to third countries.'
Such a move opens up the possibility that the fingerprints of British children could
one day be accessed by foreign intelligence services. 'Secure passports make a lot more sense than ID cards,' said Shami Chakrabarti,
director of the human rights group Liberty. 'But only as long
as the information that is kept is no more than necessary and is not shared with other countries.'