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Ministry considers allowing police to use passport fingerprints in solving crimes

The Ministry of the Interior is investigating whether fingerprints taken for passports and identity cards could be handed over to the police for the investigation of serious criminal acts.

The Ministry of Interior is studying the efficacy of using fingerprints from passports and IDs to solve crimes. Image: Arto Veräjänkorva / Yle

The Ministry of the Interior launched a study this spring into whether fingerprint data from passports and identity cards could be used in investigations of serious crimes.

The Ministry of the Interior's previous study on the issue of fingerprint data was completed in 2014. However, the study group concluded that the use of fingerprints was not possible due to critical views from Parliament's Constitutional Law Committee.

However, the issue is now being examined again. The use of biometric data came up again in Parliament in 2021, when the Act on the Processing of Personal Data by police was updated to reflect EU directives.

Suvi Pato-Oja, a specialist at the Ministry of the Interior, told Yle that the new study is being carried out because the EU's data protection directive may have changed the situation.

The use of images for biometric identification will also be examined, Pato-Oja added. In practice, this could mean the automatic identification of people using facial recognition technology.

"At the very least the study will address biometric photographs," Pato-Oja added.

Not all agree that this use of biometric data is a step in the right direction. Tomi Voutilainen, Professor of Public Law at the University of Eastern Finland, said extending the use of the register is problematic. Voutilainen added that the use of these identifiers for crime prevention purposes would significantly change the purpose of the fingerprint register.

"If the police processed our biometric data continuously, regularly, automatically, and en masse, we would all be suspects of a crime. We cannot end up in this situation," Voutilainen emphasised.

Which crimes might be included?

In a recent statement, Parliament's Administration Committee asked the Ministry of Interior to examine whether passport fingerprints could be used to prevent or solve "the most serious crimes."

"Examples given by the committee included homicide or aggravated sexual offences against a vulnerable individual," Pato-Oja said.

In its previous 2014 report, the working group looked at homicide and attempted homicide, deprivation of liberty, and sexual offences. At the time of the report, police statistics showed 1,020 unsolved crimes that fit this criteria, 34 of which had been fingerprinted. The report estimated that passport fingerprints could have helped lead investigators to the perpetrators.

Superintendent Pertti Sovelius of the National Police Boardsaid that the use of passport fingerprints has been discussed mainly in connections with serious crimes such as homicide and aggravated rape.

Voutilainen said that if passport fingerprints were to be used in criminal investigations, the range of applicable offences would have to be narrow. For example, it should only apply to the most serious crimes against life or health and terrorist offences.

"From there downwards, there are already so many different types of crime that fingerprints would be used on a regular basis," Voutilainen added.

The National Police Board is in favour of the current inquiry and after the 2014 study, police representatives disagreed when it was decided not to recommend a new drafting of the law.

The police would also like include in the review the fingerprints collected under the Aliens Act from foreigners who have entered Finland, according to Superintendent Sovelius.

The Ministry of the Interior's report is due to be released prior to the autumn session of Parliament.