FRENCH authorities have unveiled plans for a unified biometric database of the nation’s 60 million citizens over the age of 12. The move was pushed through on a national holiday without debate by the National Assembly and the database would be available for terrorism investigations.

The new database will hold an individual's name, date and place of birth, gender, eye colour, height, address, photograph, fingerprints, e-mail address, and the names, nationalities, dates and places of birth of parents, according to a report in L'Express. The idea is to make it easier to obtain and renew identity documents, and to aid in the fight against identity fraud.

The French government argues the new database will only be used to authenticate individuals, not to identify them. But France's intelligence services and police will be able to use the database to identify suspects provided "violations of the fundamental interests of the Nation and acts of terrorism" are involved.

An editorial in stated that once the database exists, it is highly likely that there will be calls to use it for identification purposes "because it is there," for example in the wake of a major terrorist attack on French soil. 

Questions have also been raised over whether the government's use of a decree rather than a law to bring about the creation of the new database was appropriate for a sensitive measure that will affect nearly every French citizen. Only children under 12 will be exempt from a requirement to provide the necessary biometrics.

The other concern with the new unified database is the risk that it will be compromised, which would potentially put the biometric data of 60 million people at risk. Unlike passwords, biometrics cannot be changed, which would make the loss of them a serious long-term problem. ♦