NEWS | Sunday, 16 December 2007

Schengen visa to demand children’s fingerprints from age five

Matthew Vella

The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union are set on a collision course over the age children should be fingerprinted for travel documents and visas to enter the EU’s Schengen zone – which Malta is set to become part of in the coming March.
The Civil Liberties Committee has proposed to set the limit for the fingerprinting of children at 14 and over – while the Council (the 27 governments) want to set the standard at five years and upwards.
Since the measure is subject to co-decision by the European Parliament and the Council, both institutions have to agree on the final text.
Visas to the EU, like those to the US, will contain biometric information – namely 10 fingerprints – which will be stored in the Visa Information System (VIS) database. All information will be collected by consulates in the different member states and transferred to the VIS which will be accessible by all member states.
Citizens from 134 countries require visas to enter the EU. Previously it was possible for an applicant who had been rejected by one country’s consulate to continue applying to other consulates. Once the VIS is in place, this will not be possible.
Rapporteur Sarah Ludford MEP (European Liberals) said limiting the age for taking children’s fingerprints was essential at this stage because objective and independent advice is lacking.
“There was no impact assessment accompanying the proposal from the Commission… in addition, there exists no large-scale experience of fingerprinting children under 14 or elderly persons. Thus in the absence of credible technical guidance, the rapporteur believes it is wise at the initial stage to adopt age limits…”
Ludford said the VIS project should not turn into a “big experiment” by allowing the fingerprinting of children as young as five, and to therefore keep age limits the same as those by other large-scale applications such as Eurodac and US-Visit – the two immigration database systems operated in the EU and the USA respectively.
“But even if there was proven technology to fingerprint children of a very low age, one should think twice and ask about how appropriate, necessary and proportionate that would be,” Baroness Ludford wrote in her report to the Civil Liberties Committee amending the Commission proposal.
She said fingerprints of young children were not necessary because it would only complicate the procedure since children’s fingerprints are subject to change. “We could see the absurd situation where fingerprints of children would have to be taken for example every two years while those of the parents were taken every four or five years.”
But she said that it is also doubtful whether fingerprinting children below 14 would contribute to the prevention of threats to internal security.
“While it is imaginable in very rare cases that children are involved in terrorist acts or other serious crimes, there are doubts as to whether this would justify taking fingerprints of so many children.”
Ludford also proposed that fingerprinting be limited to an upper age-limit of 79.
“Persons over 79 are very unlikely to be an immigration or terrorism risk. It seems disproportionate to burden them with the obligation to travel to a consulate and possibly queue several times outside… in addition, the accuracy of fingerprints decrease as people grow older.”

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