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EU top court upholds ruling on fingerprints for ID cards

March 21, 2024

The European Court of Justice ruled having fingerprints on ID cards was legal under EU privacy laws. The benefits of having such a system were key to preventing identity theft, it said.

A fingerprint scanner at the citizens office
A German citizen disputed the regulation of having two fingerprints registered to be issued an identity cardImage: Becker&Bredel/imago images

The European Union's highest court upheld a previous decision to have two fingerprints on identity cards after it was challenged at a German court.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ)  said the 2019 regulation was in line with fundamental rights to respect for private life and the protection of personal data.  But the underlying legal basis for the 2019 regulation, which is directly applicable in all member states, was faulty, the court said.

A German court in the western city of Wiesbaden asked ECJ to review the validity of an EU regulation  calling for two fingerprints to be stored on an individual's identity card after a German challenged the city's decision to deny him a new identity card if he did not provide his fingerprints.

What were the findings of the ECJ?

The ECJ  justified its decision saying fingerprints on IDs were important in the prevention of identity theft and the interoperability of verification systems. 

The court ruled that the benefits of such a system made it compatible with the right to respect for private life and the protection of personal data. The court additionally said that a facial image can be inefficient, as a face can change due to illness, aging, lifestyle, and surgery.

Some civil rights activists were disappointed with the court's decision, arguing that other options could be explored to combat identity theft.

Everyone in Germany must register two fingerprints when applying for identity cards. The ruling has been in place since August 2022.

as/rm (dpa, DW)