Civil rights groups are pushing back against a planned biometric data collection program in Greece. The program was first announced in 2019, when Greek police signed a €4.5 million deal with the private telecommunications vendor Intracom Telecom.
Under the terms of the agreement, Intracom Telecom will outfit the police with handheld devices that can be used to scan license plates, or to gather the face and fingerprint biometrics of everyday civilians. That biometric data could then be crossed-referenced with the biometric data stored in 20 national and international databases. Some of those databases are maintained in the private sector, while others belong to law enforcement and immigration authorities.
The problem, according to Human Rights Watch and Homo Digitalis, is that the scheme is overly invasive in a way that violates European privacy law. The system is ostensibly designed to curtail immigration. However, Greek authorities have already been criticized for allegedly (and illegally) turning away refugees at the country’s borders, and civil rights advocates worry that the biometric data collection system will exacerbate those discriminatory practices. In that regard, the program is not clear about when and where the police would be able to conduct a biometric scan, which means that the practices could lead to profiling and exacerbate racial biases.
“The European Commission is funding a program that will help Greek police to target and harass refugees, asylum seekers, and minority groups,” said Human Rights Watch researcher Belkis Wille. “In a country where the police frequently demand to see documents without reasonable cause, this program would deliver a tech-driven tool to ramp up abuse.”
The European Commission is providing roughly 75 percent of the funding for the Greek program through its Internal Security Fund. The program was originally supposed to launch in 2021, though COVID-19 forced authorities to delay until this coming August. Greece previously used European Commission funding to obtain biometric technology for its borders in 2016.
Syria, Iraq, and Yemen are some of the more common countries of origin for refugees arriving in Greece. The Council of Europe has asked EU countries to ban the use of facial recognition systems that could classify individuals based on traits like age, gender, or skin tone.
January 21, 2022 – by Eric Weiss