Biometrics unreliable, says EU privacy head

European Data Protection Supervisor Peter Hustinx warns that biometrics may have serious data protection implications.

Jo Best Special to CNET News.com
European Data Protection Supervisor Peter Hustinx criticized governments' fondness for biometrics to identify citizens and warned that greater interoperability of databases may have serious implications for people.

In response to a recent communication by the European Union on the interoperability of several databases, including the Visa Information System and Eurodac, Hustinx issued an opinion calling for a better analysis of the data protection implications.

"Interoperability is mentioned not only in relation to the common use of large-scale IT systems but also with regard to possibilities of accessing or exchanging data, or even of merging databases," according to the opinion. "This is regrettable since different kinds of interoperability require different safeguards and conditions."

The supervisor is also a proponent of the introduction of a so-called purpose limitation principle, which would require data to be processed fairly and lawfully and for a legitimate purpose. New data protection safeguards are therefore needed, Hustinx added.

The supervisor also hit out at the use of biometrics as unique identifiers for European citizens within databases, saying that fingerprint or DNA identifications are too inaccurate and can facilitate the unwarranted interconnection of databases.

"It is regrettable that the protection of personal data has not been explored sufficiently as an inherent part of the improvement of the interoperability of relevant systems," Hustinx said.

"The EDPS suggests adding to this communication a more consistent analysis on data protection, including privacy-enhancing technologies to improve both effectiveness and data protection," he added.

Jo Best of Silicon.com reported from London.