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Biometrics: EU court rules that fingerprints in passports are legal

The EU courts have ruled that having biometric data such as fingerprints contained in a passport are legal, reports Reuters.

European Union rules have required all newly issued biometric passports to include the fingerprints of the bearer since 2004.

The rules have taken many years to implement, as passport holders are only required to renew their passports after several years have elapsed, meaning that many citizens retain older passports, and several countries took years to develop and implement a system.

A German man, Michael Schwarz, challenged the rules in the European Courts, arguing that it was his right to refuse to give his fingerprints for his passport.

However, the EU's highest court ruled that the rules were a proportionate response to the legitimate aim of avoiding identity fraud and attempting to curb illegal immigration.

"The contested measures pursue ... the general interest objective of preventing illegal entry into the EU," said the European Court of Justice.

The EU passed rules requiring all the signatories of the Schengen agreement to have machine-readable facial images in passports by 2006 and fingerprints in the passport by 2009.

The UK is not a Schengen signatory, so is exempt from the rules. At present the UK biometric passport contains a digital image but not a fingerprint.

The UK Government is currently considering revising the requirements for its passports in line with the EU laws.

In making their decision, the EU court took into account the fact that the EU rules only permit the use of the fingerprints for identification and anti-fraud purposes, a fact that was persuasive in the judgment.