Tunisia biometric passports

Statement: Tunisia’s newly proposed biometric ID and e-passport threaten privacy

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Access Now, together with 30 civil society organizations in Tunisia, are sounding the alarm about the Ministry of Interior’s renewed proposal for a national biometric ID card. After withdrawing the proposal in the face of civil society pushback in 2018, the project has been quietly revived and still poses a serious threat to Tunisians’ privacy and data rights.

Tunisia’s Assembly of the Representatives of the People (ARP) is set to debate two draft amendments to establish a new biometric ID and e-passport which would  undermine Tunisian citizens’ fundamental right to privacy guaranteed in the Tunisian Constitution. We, the undersigned organizations, express our opposition to the draft biometric ID bill proposed again by the Ministry of Interior.

The draft biometric ID proposal was first submitted by the Ministry of Interior in 2016 to amend Law No. 27 of 1993 on the National Identity Card to introduce new ID cards with an electronic microchip. We strongly opposed the proposed bill for its failure to provide sufficient safeguards to protect Tunisian citizens’ personal information, and consequently two years later the draft bill was officially withdrawn.

The new amendments proposed in the biometric ID draft law (No. 83/2020), which now also introduces a biometric passport, continue to provide little to no substantive guidance or safeguards that would address essential questions we raised in 2018, namely:

  1. The types of administrative data that will be saved in the encrypted part of the new national identity card;
  2. What data will be saved on the biometric database;
  3. Whether the data will be backed up, for how long, and in what form;
  4. Which authorities or law enforcement agencies have access to this personal data;
  5. The legal bases which would allow the authorities concerned the right of access to these databases;
  6. Where these databases will be stored;
  7. Which institutions or individuals will have the right to access the encrypted personal data;
  8. Whether foreign governments would have the right to access such personal data;
  9. And finally, what security measures will be taken to ensure the security of this data.

It is not clear what rationale or purpose the Ministry of Interior has for reintroducing the biometric ID proposal, in addition to the biometric passport, and we are highly concerned about the Ministry’s timing and apparent urgency to resurface such a resource-intensive and rights-threatening proposal while Tunisia is grappling with a global health pandemic and worsening economic hardships. The potential for increased surveillance through such a biometric database is especially noteworthy in light of security agencies’ recent crackdown on protests. 

While we welcome that the new proposed law explicitly indicates its compliance with the Personal Data Protection Act of 2004, we are concerned that the current data protection law is outdated in its scope and does not provide adequate and robust privacy safeguards for the protection of Tunisians’ personal data. For years, Tunisia’s leaders have failed to move forward up-to-date and adequate privacy and data protection regulations, while simultaneously continue to propose the adoption of new technologies that would seriously undermine Tunisian citizens’ fundamental rights, including the protection of their personal data, their right to freedom of movement, their right to privacy and their right to freedom of expression. 

We are equally dismayed by the lack of public and open consultations with civil society organizations, particularly as these digital and biometric IDs are susceptible to attacks and abuse, and can be turned into pervasive means of identification, tracking, or control of citizens. 

In light of the above, the undersigned organizations strongly call on the  Assembly of the Representatives of the People (ARP) to:

  • Urgently prioritize the adoption of a new robust, user-centric, and right-respecting data protection law that guarantees Tunisian citizen’s protection of their private and personal information;
  • Drop the draft biometric ID bill (83/2020) proposed by the Ministry of the Interior until the adoption of the aforementioned data protection law, and until the draft law is amended to address the concerns raised;  
  • And undertake transparent, inclusive, and public consultations with civil society organizations and other stakeholders at the initiation of such proposals in the future.

Signed by,

Access Now
Union générale tunisienne du travail UGTT
Forum Tunisien pour les Droits Économiques et Sociaux (FTDES)
Ligue Tunisienne des Droits de l’Homme (LTDH)
Association Tunisienne des femmes démocrates (ATFD)
Article 19
Al Bawsala
Avocats sans frontières
I WATCH organization
CVDT Belgique
La Fédération des Tunisiens pour une Citoyenneté des deux Rives (FTCR)
Le Comité pour le Respect des Libertés et des Droits de l’Homme en Tunisie (CRLDHT)
L’union des Tunisiens pour l’Action Citoyenne (UTAC)
Association Tunisienne de Défense des Libertés Individuelles
Association 23-10
Association vigilance
Association Tunisienne de Défense des Droits de l’Enfant (ATDDE)
Association des Femmes Tunisiennes pour la Recherche et le Développement AFTURD
Damj l’Association Tunisienne pour la justice et l’égalité
International Alert
Organisation Contre la Torture en Tunisie (OTCC)
L’association le pont Geneve
No Peace Without Justice
Association démocratique des tunisiens en France
Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture (OMCT)
Solidar Tunisie
Association Tunisienne de psychanalyse