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Tighten fingerprinting safeguards for migrant children, suggests FRA

The proposal to revise the rules governing the EU’s large-scale biometrics database, Eurodac, may jeopardise or enhance the rights of migrant children, suggests the latest Opinion from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). It examines the impact on children and suggests greater emphasis on child protection. It reveals how this particularly vulnerable group needs stronger child protection safeguards to ensure they are not coerced to give fingerprints, they understand what is happening to them and their right to asylum is not affected.

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Eurodac was created to help determine which EU Member State should examine asylum applications for international protection. It currently stores the fingerprints that all asylum seekers and migrants apprehended at the EU’s external borders must provide. It allows Member States to check if someone has already elsewhere applied for asylum or been apprehended when crossing external EU borders. Law enforcements authorities can also access it to help fight serious crime and terrorism.

The European Commission has proposed revising the Eurodac Regulation to expand the scope so it can also be used to control irregular immigration and movement within the EU. Facial images and personal data would also be stored instead of just fingerprints and basic data such as gender and Member State. Personal data would also be kept for longer (ten years for international protection applicants and five years for those who have been apprehended) and the age for capturing data from children would be lowered from 14 to 6.

The European Parliament asked the Agency to provide its Opinion on the fundamental rights impact of the proposals on children. Some of the suggestions to ensure the Regulation fully respects the EU Charter for Fundamental Rights and international human rights treaties include:

  • Avoiding force when taking fingerprints which should also be carried out in a child-friendly and gender-sensitive manner – the Agency’s checklist for taking fingerprints could help;
  • Adequately informing children in an age appropriate manner so that they understand what is happening and why;
  • Adding the aim of identifying and protecting trafficked and missing children to the proposal. To facilitate family reunification, information about family links should also be captured.
  • Maintaining existing rules that restrict access for law enforcement authorities. The existing rules state that access is only possible after other databases have been consulted and when there is evidence that access will help combat terrorism or serious crime.
  • Protecting trafficked children by only allowing law enforcement authorities responsible for combating child trafficking and Europol to consult Eurodac.   
  • Strengthening the safeguards when sharing Eurodac data with non-EU countries to prevent applicants and their families from harm in the country of origin and to ensure that only necessary return data is shared once return decisions are final.
  • Including the possibility to amend and correct data as part of a regular data review to improve accuracy. This would also guard against potential mismatches.
  • Carefully evaluating how the processing of facial images impacts fundamental rights before introducing facial recognition technology; FRA could assist this evaluation. The reliability of such images for young children over time should also be assessed.
  • Assessing the added value of extending the aim of Eurodac to include controlling irregular immigration, in light of other existing and planned IT systems that also pursue such objectives.
  • Replacing the term illegal immigration with ‘irregular immigration’ throughout the proposal to avoid the use of criminalising language.

FRA issues Opinions on specific thematic topics, following requests for advice from the European Parliament, the EU Council or the European Commission. These Opinions are part of the agency's fundamental rights assistance and expertise that it provides to EU institutions and Member States.