On Tuesday March 6, the French National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale) passed a law proposing the creation of a new biometric ID card for French citizens with the justification of combating “identity fraud”. More than 45 million individuals in France will have their fingerprints and digitized faces stored in what would be the largest biometric database in the country. The bill was immediately met with negative reactions. Yesterday more than 200 members of the French Parliament referred it to the Conseil constitutional, challenging its compatibility with Europeans' fundamental rights framework, including the right to privacy and the presumption of innocence. The Conseil will consider whether the law is contrary to the French Constitution.1

The new law compels the creation of a biometric ID card that includes a compulsory chip containing various pieces of personal information, including fingerprints, a photograph, home address, height, and eye color. Newly issued passports will also contain the biometric chip. The information on the biometric chip will be stored in a central database. A second, optional chip will be implemented for online authentication and electronic signatures, which will be used for e-government services and e-commerce.

François Pillet, a French senator, called the initiative a time bomb for civil liberties, warning that those interested in protecting civil liberties must stop the creation of a database that could be transformed into a dangerous, draconian tool.2 EFF couldn’t agree more. Last year, Privacy International, EFF, and 80 other civil liberties organizations asked the Council of Europe to study whether biometrics policies respect the fundamental rights of every European. Governments are increasingly demanding storage of their citizens’ biometric data on chips embedded into identity cards or passports, and centrally kept on government databases, all with little regard to citizens’ civil liberties. France’s National Commission on IT and Freedoms (CNIL) also published a report criticizing the creation of the centralized biometric database.

France does not have a good track record of initiatives involving biometric identification. In 2009, it introduced biometric passports—which proved to be a disaster. Last year, the French Minister of the Interior admitted that 10 percent of biometric passports in circulation were fraudulently obtained. It is therefore ironic that the justification for the biometrics bill was that it is needed to combat identity fraud...