Czech travel documents to hold digital fingerprints


International and national experts came together at Prague's Charles University this week to discuss the legal aspects of counter-terrorism. Besides political, technical, and human rights issues, the conference also focused on inter-state cooperation. Washington and Brussels have clear-cut ways of dealing with terrorism but what about smaller individual countries, such as the Czech Republic, where the threat of a terrorist attack is far smaller?

"We haven't had any relevant examples of potential terrorist attacks but what we should mention is that there are people, who are suspected of being members of some international terrorist organisations and there are also cases of trying to establish some fund-raising organisations that could be misused for terrorist purposes but that is all we can say about this situation."

Oldrich Krulik, from the Czech Interior Ministry's Security Policy Department. Mr Krulik adds that people suspected of working with terrorist organisations have also taken an interest in purchasing weapons or weapon technologies in the Czech Republic. To establish further ways of cooperating with other countries and monitoring these activities, the Interior Ministry is working on a new action plan to combat terrorism. While the country's counter-terrorist measures have so far not infringed on people's basic rights and freedoms, one planned measure - the collection of biometric data - that is biological information about individuals - is potentially contentious:

"We are going along with other countries in the EU, where biometric data are coordinated and it seems that within two years, they will be included in all newly issued travel documents. First there will be a digital photograph of the document holder and then a digital fingerprint. Yes, one can say that some people could feel threatened by this but all the data bases are going to be kept secure and will be properly guarded. Yes, it's also true that everything that was created by man was afterwards misused, but let me assure you that we are doing our best to make sure that fundamental human rights are not affected."

But many human rights activists disagree. Dr. Harald Scheu from Charles's University, one of the organisers of this week's event says, even though they may not win this battle, there is a lot they can do to ensure basic rights violations in national security are kept to a minimum:

"Various human rights could be limited during the counter-terrorism activities of the state but it has always to be answered with a view to the current situation and the current conditions under which human rights are limited. I think we came to a conclusion that human rights conventions do provide for certain standards. It's a question of the monitoring procedure, which within international human rights bodies should probably be more effective in the future in order to control the implementation of actual human rights standards."

The Czech Republic is a country with plenty of experience of the abuse of data collected by the state. In communist days, the regime was obsessed with knowing every detail of people's lives, so any measures infringing on people's privacy, will inevitably be received with caution.