A U.S. visa applicant is fingerprinted by a visa clerk at the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana, Mexico Monday, March 12, 2007.
Photo: Denis Poroy (AP)

The European Parliament has voted by a significant margin to streamline its systems for managing everything from travel to border security by amassing an enormous information database that will include biometric data and facial images—an issue that has raised significant alarm among privacy advocates.

This system, called the Common Identity Repository (CIR), streamlines a number of functions, including the ability for officials to search a single database rather than multiple ones, with shared biometric data like fingerprints and images of faces, as well as a repository with personally identifying information like date of birth, passport numbers, and more. According to ZDNet, CIR comprises one of the largest tracking databases on the planet.

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The CIR will also amass the records of more than 350 million people into a single database containing the identifying information on both citizens and non-citizens of the EU, ZDNet reports. According to Politico Europe, the new system “will grant officials access to a person’s verified identity with a single fingerprint scan.”

This system has received significant criticism from those who argue there are serious privacy rights at stake, with civil liberties advocacy group Statewatch asserting last year that it would lead to the “creation of a Big Brother centralised EU state database.”

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The European Parliament has said the system “will make EU information systems used in security, border and migration management interoperable enabling data exchange between the systems.” The idea is that it will also make obtaining information a faster and more effective process, which is either great or nightmarish depending on your trust in government data collection and storage.

“Without changing access rights or endangering the data protection rules that govern them, interoperability will ensure faster, more systematic and more complete access to EU information systems for professionals on the ground: police officers, border guards, migration officers and consulate staff members, in order for them to do their job better,” Rapporteur Jeroen Lenaers (EPP, NL) said in a statement in February. “Better decisions can be made on the basis of better information.”

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The CIR was approved through two separate votes: one for merging systems used for things related to visas and borders was approved 511 to 123 (with nine abstentions), and the other for streamlining systems users for law enforcement, judicial, migration, and asylum matters, which was approved 510 to 130 (also with nine abstentions). If this sounds like the handiwork of some serious lobbying, you might be correct, as one European Parliament official told Politico Europe.

A European Commission official told the outlet that they didn’t “think anyone understands what they’re voting for.” So that’s reassuring.

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