Greek police officers escort asylum seekers from a ferry in the port of Kavala, northern Greece, in March 2020 | Photo: EPA/Laskaris Tsoutsas
Greek police officers escort asylum seekers from a ferry in the port of Kavala, northern Greece, in March 2020 | Photo: EPA/Laskaris Tsoutsas

Greece's plans to collect more biometric information will likely increase racial profiling against migrants and refugees, Human Rights Watch and Homo Digitalis have argued.

Greece's plans to provide police with hand-held devices to scan people's faces and fingerprints are inconsistent with international human rights standards and will likely amplify discriminatory police practices, international rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement published on Tuesday (January 18). The statement was also supported by Greek digital privacy advocacy group Homo Digitalis.

They called on Greece to not move forward with collecting biometric information via its "smart policing" program, arguing that Greek police already had sufficient tools at their disposal to enforce immigration laws. They also demanded that the EU withdraw its funding for the program. They also called on the telecommunications company involved in setting up the program -- Intracom Telecom -- to suspend its involvement and to launch and publish an "human rights impact assessment of the program."

Greece's plans to collect more data

Greece is planning to equip police with hand-held smart devices that can scan license plates, fingerprints and faces, according to HRW. That data can then be immediately compared with data already stored in 20 Greek and international databases, the rights organization said in its press release.

Greece has lauded the program -- among other things -- as a more efficient way to identify undocumented or improperly documented migrants.

The program was initially set to start in early 2021, but it was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, HRW said. The organization said that there "were no indications in the streets by the end of the year that it was being used."

The program is being party funded by the European Union (EU) and is being implemented in cooperation with Intracom Telecom, according to HRW.

The program will reportedly cost an estimated €4.5 million, 75% of which will be paid by the EU Commission's Internal Security Fund.

Program discriminatory against migrants?

HRW and Homo Digitalis believe that Greece's plans for expansive data collection do not comply with national and European laws on the proceesing of personal data.

They also argued that the program could exacerbate racial profiling -- that it could lead to police increasingly targetting people based on their race, perceived nationality or ethnicity.

"The European Commission is funding a program that will help Greek police to target and harass refugees, asylum seekers, and minority groups," argued Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher in HRW's press statement. "In a country where the police frequently demand to see documents without reasonable cause, this program would deliver a tech-driven tool to ramp up abuse."


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