French authorities want new European Union (EU) rules mandating all travelling EU nationals to scan their fingerprints and maybe even their faces.
The introduction of Smart Borders, a digital dragnet system using biometric scans to identify visiting non-EU nationals, was discussed at an EU interior ministers meeting this week following a pilot project study launched in February, reports EUobserver.
A French document published by civil liberties website Statewatch shows France wants to bring all travelling EU nationals into the same ‘Smart Borders’ biometric recognition scheme being considered for non-EU individuals. On page three of the document the delegation “suggests broadening the scope of the “Smart Borders” package for all travellers, also including European nationals.”
On the same page the delegation makes reference to acts of terror which have hit Europe, particularly France, this year saying that such “terrorist acts have served as a chilling reminder of the threats posed by certain European nationals or people with the right of free movement upon their return from terrorist areas.”
The European Commission first proposed Smart Borders in 2013 when it was blocked because of concerns over costs and law enforcement access. According to the Commission the scheme “aims to improve the management of the external borders of the Schengen Member States, fight against irregular immigration and provide information on overstayers, as well as facilitate border crossings for pre-vetted frequent third country national travellers.”
The French proposal to extend European surveillance to all individuals, not just non-EU nationals and criminal suspects, bolsters their own national efforts in the form of their controversial new electronic communications surveillance law.
Critics have said the new law allows French authorities similar powers to those enjoyed by the National Security Agency as exposed by Edward Snowden. French prime ministers, limited only by the non-binding recommendations of an oversight committee, can now instruct their agents to conduct loosely defined surveillance in support of “major foreign policy interests” and the protection of “economic, industrial and scientific interests.”
In response Amnesty International warned that “almost all internet communications will be considered fair game by the French authorities, without any form of meaningful checks and balance… the law is so broad it essentially provides the Executive and intelligence agencies carte blanche for mass data interception.”
Amnesty International said that under the electronic communications surveillance law “anyone living abroad who is researching possible human rights violations by the French state or a French company could find their communications subject to intrusive interception.”
Meanwhile others have pointed out that in the absence of rigorous oversight the support of “major foreign policy interests” and protection of “economic, industrial and scientific interests” could be used as a catch-all to allow surveillance on anyone the state chooses from time to time.