of the committee
1. Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001,
biometric technology has gained public acceptance in the strife
for greater security and to fight terrorism, but also fraud and
other crime. At the same time, biometric technology has advanced
significantly as a tool for reliable authentication.
2. However, biometrics also raises a range of social, legal and
ethical concerns, including those relating to privacy and other
human rights. There are fears that uncontrolled expansion in the
collection, storage and use of biometric data infringes human rights,
for example through the pooling of information stored in different
data banks or the commercial exploitation of personal biometric
The Committee on Culture, Science and Education warmly welcomes
the report prepared by Mr Holger Haibach and adopted by the Committee
on Legal Affairs and Human Rights (Doc. 12522
). With regard to the human
rights implications of biometrics, a wide political discussion at
European level is most timely and of great value to national legislators.
The technological progress in this field challenges existing norms
and standards, both at national level and globally.
4. Through Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights
(ETS No. 5), the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with
regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data (ETS No. 108) and
the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine (“Oviedo Convention”,
ETS No. 164), the Council of Europe has set European standards concerning
the fundamental rights to protection of personal data, private life
and human dignity. This acquis of
standards, as well as the wide experience accumulated through the
committees established under those conventions, put the Council
of Europe and its member governments in a leading position in Europe
5. While the report rightly refers to the European Convention
on Human Rights and Convention ETS No. 108, it is important not
to forget the Oviedo Convention. This convention has so far been
signed by 34 member states and ratified by 27.
6. The explanatory memorandum by Mr Haibach cites as examples
of “biometric data” the collection of DNA samples (paragraphs 5
and 10), as well as measurements of the heart rate, body temperature
and brain activity patterns (paragraph 7). Those biometric data
are part of an individual’s most intimate private life and physical
integrity. Mr Haibach also points out the risk of private firms
such as insurance companies taking an immense interest in biometrics
since any information on their clients’ health status helps their
commercial calculations (paragraphs 11 and 19).
7. Within the framework of the Oviedo Convention, human rights
requirements have, for example, been analysed with regard to the
collection of DNA samples as well as genetic testing in the context
of insurance contracts. It is not only the protection of personal
data of individuals which is at stake, but also the right to the protection
of their private life (paragraph 10 of the Oviedo Convention) and
their human dignity and physical integrity (paragraph 1 of the Oviedo
8. The European Commission closely co-operates in the Council
of Europe’s work under Convention ETS No. 108 and the Oviedo Convention.
The European Union and non-member states may sign both conventions and
can thus ensure a global consideration of the human rights implications
of biometrics based on established European standards.
9. The committee agrees with the proposals by its rapporteur,
Ms Anne Brasseur, which are intended to reinforce the excellent
text adopted by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.