The European Parliament voted recently to make the surveillance state one step closer by approving the creation of a biometrics-tracking, searchable database of EU and non-EU citizens called the Common Identity Repository (CIR).
The CIR will unify a disparate set of records that exist for over 350 million people.
The concept of the CIR is that it will aggregate both identity records (which may include items such as names, dates of birth and passport numbers) and biometrics (fingerprints and facial scans).
The stated target for this information is border and law enforcement authorities. Currently, they must search multiple disconnected databases to gain a full set of identifying data on a person.
Two separate votes were needed to create the CIR. Merging the systems that are used for issues related to borders and visas was passed 511 to 123 (with nine abstentions). Another vote directed at streamlining the systems relating to law enforcement, judicial, migration, and asylum-related issues was passed 510 to 130 (with nine abstentions).
The existing systems that will be incorporated into the CIR are the Schengen Information System, Eurodac and the Visa Information System (VIS). Three new systems will also be created: the European Criminal Records System for Third Country Nationals (ECRIS-TCN), the Entry/Exit System (EES) and the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS).
An overview of how the CIR will work in practice has been released showing how each element involved will work together with other parts.
The CIR will also be able to detect several identities which are connected to the same set of biometric data as well as facilitate identity checks by police authorities of third-country nationals (TCNs) on the territory of a country that is a member of the EU.
Privacy advocates have criticized the creation of the CIR, but officials in the European Parliament say there will be "proper safeguards" to protect people's right to privacy and regulate officers' access to data. Those safeguards have yet to be enumerated.
One of the motivations for the creation of the CIR may have been terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels that occurred in 2015. CIR is not the first of its kind. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as India's Aadhaar database can identify their countries' citizens just from biometric data. The government of China also has one of the largest directories worldwide that can track people.
John Gunn, CMO of OneSpanGlobal, sees the advantages of CIR. He told Security Now in a statement that, "law enforcement agencies and border control personnel have been sharing information about people for decades, if not centuries. CIR is a very positive move that will simply make the methods more timely, efficient, and effective resulting in speedier cross-border travels with less hassle and in greater safety for all as those with evil intent are more easily identified and stopped."
— Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek.