British children, 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.[Edited to add]
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.'
It's not clear what effect this may have in Ireland. The legal basis is Regulation 2252/2004 which is a Schengen act and therefore not binding on Ireland. The Government's current policy is not to include fingerprints on passports - see the Dept. of Foreign Affairs FAQ. However, if and when Ireland does enter Schengen this will be a fait accompli.