The EU’s biometric power-grab is sinister and grotesque

The EU’s biometric power-grab is sinister and grotesque

Comment
The EU’s biometric power-grab is sinister and grotesque
Brussels is rolling out an invasive new border system that will cause massive delays, and further undermine our liberty
Silkie Carlo
16 October 2022 • 7:00am
If you’re planning to escape to a chateau next summer, brace yourself for pointless chaos and travel disruption, thanks to the EU’s latest Orwellian move to demand holiday-makers’ biometric data at its borders. Brits hopping across the Channel will first have their fingerprints and photos taken. The new mass data-gathering scheme, which will go live in May, is part of the evolution of a so-called “Smart Border”.
But there is nothing “smart” about the plans. The data grab has been justified by the aim of improving detection of dangerous travellers, finding vulnerable people, and reducing fraud, but it comes at an eye-watering cost to liberty and logistics. The border plans have been rightly described by civil society groups as “disproportionate and unnecessary”, while the Port of Dover’s boss has warned of “significant and continued disruption for a very long time”.
All travellers aged over 12 will need to be biometrically logged, creating an EU datastore loaded with hundreds of millions of people’s unique personal data. The EU is demanding not only a US-style set of four fingerprints, but facial images too. Holiday-makers’ personal information will be mixed in with eventually billions of pieces of data, spanning photographs, palm prints, DNA records and facial biometrics, to which controversial recognition algorithms can be applied. This may be the biggest biometric data collection operation in European history. What could possibly go wrong?
Too many of our European friends have an indifferent attitude to the emergence of a data-hungry superstate – over 1.7 billion EU Digital Covid Certificates were issued during the pandemic – but even those falling out of love with liberté must be concerned about the disastrous impact on tourism and transport. The Big Brother-style EU border checks are estimated to take seven times longer than checks today and the tailback at Dover could grow by 19 miles – roughly the distance of the Channel crossing itself.
It is ironic but not entirely surprising that the Schengen Area, supposedly defined by freedom of movement, is becoming a digital fortress. Authorities are adopting extreme technologies on the seemingly neutral premise of progress, but this is not simply a process of modernisation – it is a process of political metamorphosis.
It risks edging us towards a bleak future mirroring the kind of techno-totalitarianism modelled by China. And the biometric super-database is by no means the only disturbing technological development on European borders – in 2019, the EU trialled Minority Report-style AI “lie detectors” to scan passengers” faces in a highly controversial, poorly evidenced system called iBorderCtrl.
Meanwhile, police are using similar technologies in the UK, rolling out live facial recognition cameras, mobile fingerprinting devices, and according to a speech by the new Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley last week, finding “precriminal” online activity and using predictive analytics to target men who might become violent towards women in the future. Yet he said nothing about the thousands of reports every year of rape and domestic violence that are poorly investigated and rarely prosecuted.
Distinctly European values are falling between the cracks in the technological revolution – our cherished liberty, the presumption of innocence and the right to privacy. Last week, the head of GCHQ warned about China’s use of technology to exert control and of its “draconian” development of a “surveillance culture”. But if we are to criticise China with any authority, we must first show leadership in using technology to advance and protect liberty at home.
Silkie Carlo is director of Big Brother Watch
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