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Privacy concerns grow over plan for massive French database

Jack Guez, AFP | Picture taken 20 April 2006 at the French international airport of Roissy Charles de Gaulle, near Paris, illustrating the country's electronic passports

The French government’s plan to create a massive database compiling the biometric information of some 60 million people drew new criticism Monday, with a state watchdog group calling it a "door open to misuse".


The group, the French Digital Council, which looks at the impact of technology on society and the economy, called for the suspension of the database.

The Socialist government announced on Nov. 30 a decree to create the Secure Electronic Documents database, a massive file that would contain names, digital fingerprints, photos, eye colours, and addresses of almost the entire population.

Amassing so much personal information in one place leaves "the door open to misuse that is as likely as it is unacceptable," the French Digital Council said in a statement. "Recent history teaches us that the creation of such a database has regularly led to an expansion of their initial uses".

"To think that our country would be an exception is tantamount to ignoring lessons of history and international comparisons," the council added. "The democratic regressions and the rise of popularism in Europe and the US make this bet on the future unreasonable".

The government’s plan also sparked fears that such a centralised system would attract hackers.

"Major dysfunction"

The stealthily issued decree, published two days after Halloween, led opposition MP Lionel Tardy to accuse the government last week of "treating the French people like pumpkins".

Digital Affairs Minister Axelle Lemaire, in an interview in Opinion magazine Monday, said that she saw a “major dysfunction” in the thinking that the decree would pass without being known or seen.

The Interior Ministry says its intention is to bring together separate databases used to issue passports and France's national identity cards, which would lead to greater efficiency and better data security.

It is intended to help fight identity fraud, and the biometric information would not be used by the police or judicial authorities to identify suspects, the ministry says.
French governments have repeatedly proposed the creation of a national database, with attempts in 2012 by the centre-right government rejected by the country's highest court.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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