Dutch authorities have been prevented from storing citizens' fingerprints in a central database following a ruling this week by the Court of Justice in the Hague.
In the Netherlands, individuals' fingerprints are gathered by the local municipality when they apply for a new passport. The government had proposed gathering those different sets of fingerprints into a central database, which could then be accessed by police for the purposes of matching fingerprints found in criminal investigations.
However, the system turned out to be far from perfect — 21 percent of fingerprints collected by the authorities in the Netherlands were unusable to identify individuals.
The court found such a high level unacceptable: "This can mean nothing other than the storage of fingerprints in a central register is not suitable for the purpose originally envisioned, that is, the determination and verification of one's identity.
"This means that it is also not suitable for the prevention of identity fraud or for the process of requesting a new travel document or using a travel document, which is one of the main purposes of the Act [the legislation which requires fingerprints in Dutch passports]. Therefore the conclusion is that the invasion of privacy formed by the central storage of fingerprints is unjustified."
No immediate effect
Although the ruling is a significant victory for Privacy First, the privacy group that brought the case before the Court of Justice, it won't have immediate consequences for the Dutch government.
The European Court of Justice had already ruled in October last year that the directive requiring European member states to include two fingerprints in their passports did not provide a legal basis for then also including all citizens' prints in a central repository.
In addition, the court stipulated that fingerprints given by individuals for such purposes could not to be used for criminal investigations.
As a result of these developments, the Dutch government cancelled plans for a central fingerprint database, meaning this week's ruling is may no longer seem necessary.
However, according to Christiaan Alberdingk Thijm, the lawyer representing Privacy First, the ruling will have a bearing on any future government attempts to collect sensitive data, such as photos.
"This is not only good news for those opposing plans of a central fingerprint database, but for those opposing any central government owned database," he said.