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Ministry looks into using fingerprint data to fight crime

Currently, stored fingerprint data can only be used by police to identify passport and ID card applicants or to identify an unidentified victim.

Three million sets of fingerprints are contained in the police passport and identity card register in Finland, according to the Ministry of the Interior. Image: Eetu-Mikko Pietarinen / Yle

The Ministry of the Interior began an inquiry in March into whether fingerprint data from passport and identification card registers could be utilised in investigating serious crimes in Finland.

In May, the police and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) advocated for expanding their use, arguing that it would lead to the resolution of unsolved crimes.

According to the NBI's forensic laboratory, the police's fingerprint register contained 38 unsolved murders and 57 homicides last May, some of which included unidentified fingerprints.

Around three million sets of fingerprints are contained in the register in total, based on the Ministry of the Interior's own figures.

"In the light of current information, the data could be useful, for example, in the investigation of homicides," Pertti Sovelius, Chief Superintendent at National Police Board, said.

The use of these materials should be clearly limited if it is allowed, Sovelius noted.

"The starting point could be, for example, some kind of exhaustive list of criminal offences. Passports and identity cards are essential documents for the majority of people, guaranteeing freedom of movement, so any deviation from their original purpose should be carefully planned," Solvelius said.

Police would be prepared to limit the use of the register to the prevention, detection and investigation of, for example, serious violent offences, terrorism, sexual offences, and treason.

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Fingerprints added to travel documents in 2009

In 2009, an EU regulation required member states to add fingerprints to national passports and travel documents. As of 2021, fingerprints will also be taken from those wishing to apply for identification cards.

Prints are stored on chips in passports and ID cards, as well as in the police passport and ID card data registers.

Currently, fingerprint data from these registers can only be used to identify passport and ID card applicants or to identify an unidentified victim.

In 2014, an interior ministry working group concluded that fingerprint data stored in the passport register could not be used to combat serious crimes.

The group based its view on the position of the Constitutional Law Committee, which argued that the large-scale storage and use of fingerprint data constituted an interference with the protection of personal data and the right to private life.

The Administration Committee has noted that since the report, there have been changes in EU data protection legislation, among other things. It has therefore become necessary to assess whether legal conditions for the use of fingerprint data have been established.