Fingerprints requirement for passport does not infringe data protection rights

Mr Schwarz applied to his regional authority, the city of Bochum, for a passport. He was required to submit a photograph and fingerprints. He did not like the fingerprint part. He considered it unduly invasive. He refused. So Bochum refused to give him a passport. He asked the court to order it to give him one. The court referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union questions about whether the requirement to submit fingerprints in addition to photographs complied with the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC.

Last week, the Fourth Chamber of the CJEU gave its judgment: the requirement is data protection-compliant.

The requirement had a legal basis, namely Article 1(2) of Council Regulation 2252/2004, which set down minimum security standards for identity-confirmation purposes in passports.

This pursued a legitimate aim, namely preventing illegal entry into the EU.

Moreover, while the requirements entailed the processing of personal data and an interference with privacy rights, the ‘minimum security standards’ rules continued to “respect the essence” of the individual’s right to privacy.

The fingerprint requirement was proportionate because while the underlying technology is not 100% successful in fraud-detection terms, it works well enough. The only real alternative as an identity-verifier is an iris scan, which is no less intrusive and is technologically less robust. The taking of fingerprints is not very intrusive or intimate – it is comparable to having a photograph taken for official purposes, which people don’t tend to complain about when it comes to passports.

Importantly, the underlying Regulation provided that the fingerprints could only be used for identity-verification purposes and that there would be no central database of fingerprints (instead, each set is stored only in the passport).

This is all common-sense stuff in terms of data protection compliance. Data controllers take heart!

Robin Hopkins