What does a high-performance passport mean

The police will soon not only be able to access photos of biometric passports. She is also allowed to have pictures of ID cards and older passports. Data protection activist Schaar complains that despite a ban, a large passport photo file is created

BY CHRISTIAN RATH

The planned online access to citizens' passport photos does not only affect holders of new biometric passports. Even with many older passports and many ID cards, the photos are already available in digitized form, the Federal Ministry of the Interior said yesterday at the request of the taz. In these cases, too, the police will in future be able to access the passport photos online, according to a draft law by the federal government (see yesterday's taz).

A typical application of the new technology: A car drives too fast and is "flashed" by a camera. The owner of the vehicle is determined from the license plate number. He says he wasn't behind the wheel. The fines authority can now directly access the passport photo in the passport register and compare it with the image taken by the radar camera. Previously, an application had to be made to the passport authority, which then usually sent the picture by post or fax.

In future, the police will also be able to access the passport register online to create a mug shot. This is also useful if an observation team is to be shown what the person to be monitored actually looks like.

According to the planned regulation, online access is only possible to photos for which the name of the person photographed is already known. With this legal situation, it would not be possible for the police to send a photo to the 5,300 passport authorities and ask: “What is this person's name?” For this purpose they cannot research the passport registers online. For this, the passport law would have to be changed again - which will certainly be discussed in a few years, when the software for face recognition is more powerful.

Digitized passport photos are not only created by the passport authority because they have been stored in the new biometric identity card since November 2005. In fact, Bundesdruckerei has been offering the Digant digital application process since 2000, which is now used by almost all municipalities. The photos for passports and ID cards are scanned and sent as a file to Bundesdruckerei. They are also stored in the authorities because most passport and identity card registers are kept electronically. According to estimates, the photos for a large part of the 30 million passports and 60 million identity cards are already managed in digital form.

Consequently, the federal government's draft law not only provides for online access for the police to the passport registers, but also to the identity card registers, in which around twice as many people are recorded. All requests must be logged so that it is possible to trace which authority obtained which photos and when.

The data protection officer Peter Schaar criticized the draft law on Deutschlandfunk: "The online access creates a large virtual file of passport photos, even if they are spatially distributed to more than 5,000 municipal offices." Passus added: "A nationwide file will not be set up." That will now be effectively undermined. "Once there is simple online access, there will quickly be demands to use it more extensively for criminal prosecution."