Close but no cigar

October 11th, 2007

Social Democratic Party drops its objections to fingerprints in ID cards

The experts on domestic and legal policy of the parliamentary group of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the Bundestag, the lower chamber of Germany’s Federal Parliament, have withdrawn their initial objections to biometric enhancements of the new German ID card, the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel has written in a report published in the run-up to the final meeting of the representatives of the ruling coalition on the highly controversial topic scheduled for Tuesday. The Conservatives (CDU) and their partners in the ruling grand coalition, the SPD, have been working towards a solution akin to the one found for the e-passport, the paper declares. Thus apart from a digital photograph of the person in question, two of his or her fingerprints are to be integrated into the electronic ID card’s RFID chip. The approach does not provide for storage of the sensitive data outside the documents themselves. Members of the opposition have already warned that the system that was being put in place would lead to citizens being fingerprinted and photographed like criminals by the registration authorities.

>Dieter Wiefelspütz, an expert of the Social Democratic Party on domestic affairs, said he thought it was possible to countenance the inclusion of fingerprints in the ID cards that most citizens would eventually be carrying provided that “the storing of the data elsewhere has been ruled out completely.” The digital ID card was a “fascinating modernization project,” he added. Because of the potential advantages of the new document for citizens – it would make it a lot easier for them to register with authorities or have their age confirmed or checked via the Internet or when surfing the same, he pointed out – he for one would be supporting the project. For identification and authentication purposes a digital photo was good, “but a fingerprint is better still,” he declared. For Fritz Rudolf Körper, the deputy head of the parliamentary group of the Social Democrats, the party line is clear: “Fingerprints yes, but no database to go with them.” Even Klaus Uwe Benneter, the spokesman on legal policy issues of the SPD in the Bundestag, who within the ranks of the party has, to date, been a vocal critic of the project has signaled that he would be willing to drop his objections. The citizens of the Federal Republic would undoubtedly “benefit from” the biometric ID card, he said. (Stefan Krempl)

Clearly there are people in the SDP who can feel the threat from routine fingerprinting, and the spectre of a database of everyone’s prints in a central location. What their ‘solution’ doesn’t address is the problem of taking people’s fingerprints, storing them on a card and then that card being readable and the prints, unique IDs and other information subsequently storable in a database. All it will take is one law to require this, and all the work of fingerprinting everyone will have been done on the basis that it was safe. It is called ‘betrayal’.

This problem cannot be circumvented. The SDP have to accept that in order to live in a free society, some things must be forbidden, and mandatory fingerprinting people is one of them. No concessions, no work-arounds, no compromise. The definition of freedom requires that you should not be compelled to be fingerprinted by the state for its purposes.

They at least accept that this is a very gravely serious issue, which is at least a start.

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