EXCLUSIVE: Parliament documents reveal new biometric attendance system

The European Parliament is to test a biometric attendance register for MEPs taking part in meetings at its Brussels premises, internal documents seen by EURACTIV reveal learned.

The European Parliament is to test a biometric attendance register for MEPs taking part in meetings at its Brussels premises, internal documents seen by EURACTIV reveal learned. [Shutterstock]

The European Parliament is to test a biometric attendance register for MEPs taking part in meetings at its Brussels premises, internal documents seen by EURACTIV reveal. The move has provoked worry among privacy-conscious members of Parliament, who oppose the move to capture MEP fingerprint data.

A new system has been approved by the Bureau of the European Parliament, composed of a cross-section of MEPs from leading groups, which has backed plans for introducing a so-called ‘biometric central attendance register’ in order to record presence at Parliamentary meetings.

The technology will also allow MEPs to ‘automatically’ receive their daily allowance from Parliament for attending the Brussels premises.

“In the future, Members will no longer have to sign a list of presence at the meeting rooms,” the documents note. “When in the Parliament, they will scan their fingerprint in one of the machines to attest their presence and will then automatically receive the daily subsistence allowance.”

A note from the bureau, which oversees the administrative functioning of the Parliament, also reads that the fingerprint scanning stations will “not take or store” a ‘proper image’ of the fingerprint, “but only a biometric template.”

Earlier system shelved

The original plans to install a biometric attendance system go back to June 2019, when Parliament’s bureau endorsed measures to develop a computerised system for the digitalisation of the central attendance registry, through biometric technology.

An earlier system for recording MEPs’ attendance had been trailed based on the registration of Parliamentary badges, but the results were deemed not to have been ‘optimal’ by Parliament’s bureau, because “the identification of the holder of the badge could not be guaranteed.”

The current project was presented to the bureau in September this year by Parliament’s Directorate-General for Finance, the department responsible for managing the budget.

A testing phase of the system is currently slated to commence in December and will last around two months.

One Parliament official informed EURACTIV that the institution’s data protector officer was consulted and that the new system complies with institutional rules on data protection. An impact assessment is believed to have been conducted last year.

However, the European Data Protection Supervisor – the body which oversees data protection formalities across the EU institutions – informed EURACTIV that it had not been consulted on the plans, potentially bringing Parliament’s practice in breach of EU rules.

The bureau could not confirm to EURACTIV which technology will be used for the new system.

MEPs take a stand

The measures have raised concern among some of the more privacy-conscious MEPs. Pirate MEP Patrick Breyer told EURACTIV that he opposes this “unnecessary and likely unlawful biometric fingerprinting of Members of the European Parliament.”

“In substance, I am not objecting to the Bureau’s decision to automate the Members’ attendance and plenary registers and the advantages that come with it, but I strongly object to fingerprinting all of us for that purpose,” he added.

Referring to the previous badge system, which Parliament’s bureau had considered, Breyer also raised concerns that the decision not to go ahead with the system was prejudicial to MEPs.

“If you argue against relying on the badge because “identification of the holder of the badge could not be guaranteed”, you are placing all Members under a general suspicion of fraudulently handing over their badge and asking other people to register and claim attendance allowances,” he said.

A cross-section of MEPs has also voiced their concerns about the bureau’s intentions. Certain members who are taking a stand against the plans include Renew’s Sophie in ‘t Veld, Mislav Kolakušić and Anne-Sophie Pelletier of the European United Left, Greens/EFA’s Francisco Guerreiro and Marie Toussaint, and unattached member Ivan Vilibor Sinčić.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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