Sarah's speech to Parliament on biometric passports
Sarah Ludford, author . − Madam President, I would like to thank Carlos Coelho for initiating this important debate.
It is obviously very important to make travel documents more secure and we have been working on that for a decade both in the EU and of course in the US and other countries. However, as technology advances, so does the ease with which criminals can exploit weaknesses in our system. Most of my work on biometric identifiers has been done in the area of visas, but I have always expressed the concern that it would be a false illusion to put too much trust in biometrics as if somehow once they are captured and used we can have 100% faith. As has been said by others, they are only as good as not only the technology but the competence of the officials running the system and indeed the cooperation of individual applicants.
I think it is a fair question to ask where we are at. In negotiating the Visa Code in 2009, in which I was involved, Parliament successfully required that we should not fingerprint children under 12 due to the unreliability of such fingerprints. Obviously assessments will be done in the future on that.
Earlier this year Sophia in 't Veld and I asked the Commission to comment on the Dutch study that is mentioned in the question which shows that in many cases the fingerprints taken were non-verifiable and therefore useless.
The Commission responded that no major problems had been reported and drew our attention to a JRC study, due out in May, on the reliability of information stored on chips in electronic passports. The problem with this is that it has been done on the basis of voluntary information supplied by Member States, so I think that we need a study which is more comprehensive on failure rates.
According to the Visa Code the Commission should present a report in June this year including an evaluation of the collection of data and documents used for creating biometric passports. We are not just concerned about passports. We are also concerned about visas and fingerprinting practices across the range of travel and identity documents.
Unlike the Commission, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has in a 2010 report expressed concerns about weaknesses in the evidence-gathering ch