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Ó Snodaigh cautions against use of biometric data

18 October, 2007

Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has cautioned against some of the measures in the Passport Bill 2007 including the proposal to use biometric data which Deputy Ó Snodaigh said automatically raises human rights concerns, particularly in relation to the right to privacy. Deputy Ó Snodaigh welcomed measures to prioritise the 'child's best interest' and measures to allow transgender persons to change their gender on their passport.

Speaking in the Dáil today, "The Bill introduces the concept of the 'child's best interests' into the Minister's decision-making. This is a welcome development and is consistent with one of the foremost principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Bill also allows transgender persons to change their gender on their passport. This is the first time that explicit recognition is being given to the rights of transgender persons in law and as such it is a very positive development.

"Section 12 of the Bill gives the Minister dangerously extensive powers of discretion with no transparency. The Minister may decide on the basis of his own, or a government colleague's opinion, to deny an Irish citizen a passport and by extension deny their right to leave the state. He can deprive any individual of this fundamental liberty if, in his view, they might endanger public safety, be contrary to the common good or, on the oft-abused ground 'prejudice state security'.

"Vesting this power in one political personality is outrageous. The government is essentially proposing with this Bill that even where no convictions, maybe even no charges, have been made against an individual the Minister alone, and in the absence of any independent or judicial oversight, can sentence an individual to a lifetime of severely restricted travel or 'state-arrest'.

"The Bill introduces biometric data to the whole process. This automatically raises human rights concerns particularly in relation to the right to privacy.

"Currently the only biometric in use for passports are facial images and these are stored in a central database held by Dept. Foreign Affairs. Under this definition at any time, and without consultation, the Minister could extend the biometrics required from passport applicants to include iris images, finger-prints and potentially even DNA profiles. At a minimum this Bill should be amended to limit the biometric provisions to facial images thereby requiring any future extension to be proceeded by full Oireachtas debate and scrutiny.

"The Minister must ensure that the use of this database and its contents will be limited to that processing which is required for the issuing or cancellation of passports with high-bar exceptions only. This new passport system must not amount to the introduction by stealth of a massive biometric database at the disposal of domestic and foreign security agents. The Minister must detail the safeguards he has put in place to ensure this." ENDS

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