Upholding Legitimacy: Fingerprints on Identity Cards in Europe

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) rules on the lawfulness of storing fingerprints on identity cards, emphasizing enhanced security against fraud. Although the current regulation was deemed invalid due to procedural missteps, it remains effective until a new one is enacted by December 2026.

Legitimacy of Fingerprints on Identity Cards

Since 2021, fingerprints have been stored on the chip of identity cards, sparking significant criticism. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has now ruled that including fingerprints on identity cards is lawful. They argue that a photograph is less secure against fraud.

The ECJ, based in Luxembourg, has determined that storing fingerprints on identity cards is permissible while still ensuring adequate protection of privacy and personal data.

Compared to photographs, fingerprints are considered more secure against counterfeiting. The judges also emphasized that fingerprints on identity cards serve to combat crime and terrorism.

The case was brought before a court in Wiesbaden by a man who objected to being issued a new identity card without fingerprints. The court referred the case to the ECJ to determine whether storing two fingerprints violated the fundamental right to protection of personal data. The judges ruled in favor of the legality of finger biometrics.

Disruption of Fake Identity Production

Although there is a restriction on fundamental rights such as the right to privacy and protection of personal data, the ECJ justified this limitation to combat the production of counterfeit identification documents and identity theft. It also facilitates European citizens in exercising their right to freedom of movement within the EU.

For over two years, it has been mandatory in Germany for individuals to provide their fingerprints at the registry office when applying for a new identity card. This regulation aligns with the EU directive, with the fingerprints exclusively stored on the card itself according to the Federal Ministry of the Interior.

Need for a New Regulation

However, the court noted that the underlying regulation was based on the wrong legal grounds, resulting in the incorrect legislative procedure being followed. Unanimity among EU countries is required for a new regulation.

As a result, the court declared the current regulation invalid. Nevertheless, in consideration of the significant repercussions on a large number of EU citizens and their security, the regulation remains in effect until a new one is enacted by December 31, 2026. Further decisions on this issue will be made by the Wiesbaden court.