Tunisian Biometric ID and Passport

Eight years in the making: Tunisia’s controversial Biometric ID and Passport Bills risk rights

In a decision that risks the rights of millions, on March 6, the Tunisian Parliament officially adopted two controversial bills related to the Biometric ID and Biometric Passport. This decision marks the culmination of a prolonged campaign led by Access Now and civil society partners in Tunisia since 2016, advocating against the creation of a mandatory biometric ID system without robust data protection and privacy safeguards for Tunisian citizens.

Since 2016, civil society in Tunisia has been sounding the alarm on the Biometric ID Bill, demanding robust human rights guarantees and safeguards. However, many of the demands from eight years ago remain unaddressed. As Tunisia moves towards implementing these new biometric ID systems, Access Now’s commitment to advocating for the protection of the rights and privacy of every Tunisian citizen remains unwavering. Kassem Mnejja, MENA Campaigner at Access Now

In Tunisia, the outdated 2004 Data Protection Law, coupled with a lack of clarity on how the authorities will use, store, and protect citizens’ sensitive information against abuse or unlawful access adds to civil society’s apprehensions. Despite persistent campaigning, the Tunisian Parliament ignored civil society’s recommendations to address the loopholes in the Biometric ID draft law. 

The vote on the mandatory biometric ID is a sad end to eight years of civil society campaigning for privacy and data protection in Tunisia. Pursuing digital transformation without prioritizing people’s fundamental rights is both risky and counterproductive. Despite this setback, Access Now remains committed to advancing robust data protection safeguards in Tunisia. Marwa Fatafta, MENA Policy and Advocacy Director at Access Now

The Biometric ID Bill first emerged in August 2016 when the Tunisian Ministry of Interior (MoI) proposed replacing traditional identity cards with mandatory chip-enabled biometric ones for all Tunisian citizens aged 15 and above. Despite encountering setbacks, with civil society winning in different rounds over the past eight years, the MoI revived the initiative in late 2023. 

On November 30, 2023, the ministry’s fourth draft law on Biometric ID secured approval during a ministerial council session and then advanced to the Parliament’s Committee on Rights and Freedoms on December 25, 2023. Following deliberations, which regrettably lacked public consultations with relevant stakeholders, both Biometric ID and Passport Laws were given green light on February 28, 2024, and were adopted by an overwhelming majority vote on March 6. One day prior to the vote, a number of Members of Parliament introduced an amendment to prohibit the creation of a centralized biometric database by the MoI, but unfortunately, it was dismissed. 

Access Now will continue to closely monitor the developments surrounding the implementation and rollout of the new Biometric ID Bill, and will remain committed to engaging with Tunisian authorities and stakeholders to ensure the protection of privacy and human rights in Tunisia.