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European Parliament opposes plan to fingerprint all MEPs for a “biometric attendance register” 

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Yesterday, a large majority of Members of the European Parliament opposed the Parliament’s plans to register their presence by processing their fingerprints. By 420:202:15 votes they called on the Bureau to “develop an alternative solution that does not involve the processing of biometric data”. For example, an electronic attendance register could rely on Members badges or their mobile phones, and it could come with random and periodic checks by human monitoring.

In the past, there has been some harsh criticism of plans by the European Parliament‘s Bureau to fingerprint all Members of Parliament in order to register their presence. Following up on complaints, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) is called into doubt the legality of the scheme.  In a set of recommendations released in March 2021 the EDPS told the Parliament leadership it needs to justify why it considers the risk of impersonations for a badge-based system is „more than a fringe occurrence“ and whether such fraud has ever occurred while a badge-based system was being tested. Parliament also needs to look into alternative solutions that rely on Members‘ mobile phones. 

„By plotting to fingerprint all Members, the Parliament‘s leadership wanted to place all of us under a general suspicion of fraudulently asking other people to register and claim attendance allowances – without citing a single occurrence of such fraud during the test of a badge-based system“, states Breyer. „I am pleased that the Members of the European Parliament are speaking out so strongly against this unnecessary and likely unlawful biometric fingerprinting. We shall not allow large-scale processing of biometrics to become a new normality.“

Background: The Article 29 data protection group stated that, as a general rule, the use of biometrics cannot be regarded as a legitimate interest for securing access to buildings. According to the European Data Protection Supervisor Wojciech Wiewiórowsk „the EDPS did not consider proportionate the use of biometric systems for monitoring staff members’ working time and leave. We considered the processing of biometric data was not necessary in relation to the purpose, because such purpose could be achieved with less intrusive means, such as by signing in, using attendance sheets, or using clocking in systems via magnetic badges.“

Breyer also refers to an EDPS publication on “14 misunderstandings with regard to biometric identification and authentication”.