May 7, 2016

Citizens’ fingerprints adorn windows of new Deventer city hall

Filed under: Architecture by Branko Collin @ 6:06 pm

stadhuis-deventer-portraitTwo weeks ago the city of Deventer officially got a new city hall.

One of its prominent features is an artwork by Loes ten Anscher called Raamwerk Deventer which consists of the blown-up metal fingerprints of 2,264 citizens that cover windows both on outside and inside walls.

An early design for a new city hall had a number of difficulties to overcome. It was protested ten years ago for being obtrusive and the brouhaha even brought down two successive city governments. The architects of that design, Neutelings Riedijk from Rotterdam, were asked to return to their drawing boards, which they did. They came up with something better, something that impressed “Design driven by political noise usually ends up being a tepid compromise or an outright failure […]. But the City Hall Quarters, as the collection of old and new buildings is called, has become an exemplary complex in both an architectural and an urban design sense. The city hall is an example of how well a new building can function in an old city centre.”

Loes ten Anscher hopes that by using their fingerprints, the citizens will come to feel that the new building also belongs to them.

A more cynical person, like me, might see the usage of thousands of fingerprints more like a celebration of the utter disdain with which Dutch governments sometimes treat their citizens’ right to privacy. But hey, it looks really pretty, right?

(Photo: Deventer Stadhuiskwartier)

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October 18, 2013

EU court declares storing fingerprints in database illegal

Filed under: Online,Technology by Orangemaster @ 11:05 am

Back in 2011 we told you about a woman who refused to be fingerprinted to get a new Dutch passport. Although she finally got one, she definitely made her point of not wanting to let the government store her fingerprints in a database that could be used for other purposes.

The European high court has declared that using fingerprints in a passport is fine, but storing them in a centralised or decentralised database is illegal, as it does not serve the purpose of the passport. Furthermore, there is ‘no legal basis’ for storing the fingerprints, as they could be used for other purposes. Pursuant to Article 4b of the Dutch passport law, the government stores passport fingerprints in a central database, which the Ministry of Justice eventually intended to use to track down criminals, using them for other purposes.

I can imagine why the woman did not want to give away her privacy for free and the EU court agrees with her completely. There are a lot of cases pending and for now Big Brother is on the losing side.

(Links: – vingerafdrukken,

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February 21, 2011

Woman refuses to be fingerprinted for passport, sues

Filed under: General by Branko Collin @ 10:54 am

Eight months ago the city of The Hague refused to provide Louise van Luijk with a passport, even though as a Dutch citizen she has the right to one. Last Monday (Webwereld) or Tuesday (De Stentor) Van Luijk was heard by an appeals court which expects to have a ruling ready on March 23.

As part of new European rules for biometric passports, Van Luijk would have to provide the state with her fingerprints, which she refuses to do. For that reason the city has refused to issue her a passport. Van Luijk claims this is a human rights issue, as all kinds of official activities in the Netherlands require being able to identify yourself.

The Dutch government wants to store fingerprints from passports in a central database—not required by the new European law—, and Van Luijk fears that the French company managing this database could sell her private data to other parties. The fear may be unfounded, but the Dutch government does not have a good track record when it comes to securing the private data of its citizens.

According to De Groene Amsterdammer, passports are required if you want to register with the Chamber of Commerce, file a report with the police, register a newborn with the municipality, vote, buy a house, and so on. Van Luijk’s personal experience is different: when her child was born, the city accepted a copy of her birth certificate as proof of her existence. People in the Netherlands are obliged to identify themselves to the authorities when asked.

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November 4, 2009

Of fingerprints, passports and borders

Filed under: Technology by Orangemaster @ 2:00 pm

While my latest Canadian passport is now machine readible — the one before was the same price, not machine readible and would have caused problems for me flying to the US — Dutch passports are getting even more high tech than they already are. The identification page of the latest Dutch passport is made of hard plastic, has watermarks and probably even hidden secret messages for added safety. Ironically, having flown to the US two weeks ago, a young Dutch girl I met on the plane was held for two hours with her brand spanking new Dutch passport by Interpol, with the excuse that her passport had been reported stolen. How they came up with that story is beyond me and freaked her out pretty good.

The new Dutch passport law passed earlier this year requires that as of 21 September 2009 all new Dutch passports and national ID cards issued have matching fingerprints stored in a national database. This information is placed in the RFID chip of the documents themselves. Hell, Canada and the US don’t even have chips on their credit cards yet!

A Dutch group called Privacy First (Dutch) is fighting the storage of fingerprints at the national level, claiming that it goes further than the EU agreement to do so and that it makes the databank a target for hacking criminals. We’ll probably keep you posted on this.

What I don’t get, or what seems ironic to me is that to fly to or via the United States, the Dutch (and many other countries) have to be fingerprinted at US customs. Who says their system is any safer or hacker-resistant? Why care about possible leaks in the Dutch system when the most powerful country in the world feels obliged to fingerprint its foreign visitors? Sure, not everyone flies to the US from the Netherlands, but a lot of people do.

And to tie this whole story into a neat bow, Canadians are exempt from being fingerprinted and do not need any visa or waiver to go to the US. In fact, you can probably still drive to the US from Canada with a driver’s licence and a smile. I’ve personally walked over the border by foot at Noyan, Qu├ębec into the state of Vermont, as the border check place was closed.

The First Nations people of Canada and the US Native Americans on the border can move back and forth freely, as long as they don’t get caught smuggling cigarettes, booze or cheap gas (petrol).

When I politely told the young male customs offer I had waited 2 hours to go through customs (a total of 4 hours for that young Dutch girl) with about 1,200 other people and was missing my flight as we spoke (there were only 4-5 customs officers at work at Washington Dulles airport!), he said to me verbatim “and our computer system sucks too”. And that’s where the Dutch fingerprints are stored. Took me two minutes at customs; takes EU members 5-10 minutes, I timed it.

Dutch customs asked me on the way there and the way back to prove I lived in the Netherlands by having to show my resident’s permit as well as my passport. A foreign passport in the Netherlands has no indication whatsoever that someone is a resident and not a tourist. Everyone’s a suspect somewhere.

(Link: webwereld, Photo of my wonderfully bilingual passport)

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