In association with heise online

31 March 2008, 10:48

CCC publishes fingerprints of German Home Secretary

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In a protest against the use of biometric data, the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) has taken a step that will raise a few eyebrows – in the current issue of its club magazine Die Datenschleuder, the hackers have published the fingerprint of German Home Secretary, Wolfgang Schäuble.

The hackers say this is to protest the increasing use of biometric data. The CCC is aiming its action at the fingerprints that will be stored on e-passports. "By publishing this fingerprint, we aim to issue a warning," CCC spokesperson Dirk Engling told heise online. He said that fingerprints are not as safe as politicians claim: "They should not be part of any critical security application – and certainly not in electronic passports."

The hackers go even further than reproducing Schäuble's fingerprint; the magazine also includes a thin film that can be taped over your finger to deceive fingerprint readers with Schäuble's fingerprint. Engling says, "We recommend that you use the film whenever your fingerprint is taken, such as when you enter the US, stop over at Heathrow, or even when you touch bottles at your local super market – just to be on the safe side".

The CCC claims the fingerprint it published is genuine. It says it got the fingerprint from a sympathiser, who took it from a glass the Home Secretary had been drinking from during a podium discussion. The hackers then saved the fingerprint and created the dummy fingerprints from it in a meticulous process that took all night. A total of 4000 copies of the magazine were printed, more than 2000 of which are currently being sent to members of the CCC.

Schäuble is not the only politician whose fingerprint the hackers are after. In the "biometric photo album", they published a wish list of politicians whose fingerprints they would like to make public. In addition to Schäuble, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bavaria's Minister President Günther Beckstein are on the list. The CCC apparently means business. Along with the biometric photo album, the hackers have also published instructions on how to collect fingerprints professionally and invite people to send them to the club by mail.

Instructions on collecting fingerprints
Instructions on how to collect fingerprints
The publication of the fingerprint may not only have political, but also legal consequences. Engling says he is not worried that the Chaos Computer Club may have violated German laws on privacy by publishing the fingerprint. As he points out, the Home Ministry itself argued when electronic passports were launched that there is little difference between a passport photo and a digital fingerprint. The club says that it also checked into the legality of the matter before publication: "Our lawyer says there is no way of taking legal action against Die Datenschleuder over publication of the fingerprint"

But not all legal experts agree. "I can easily imagine the politicians and criminal prosecutors affected trying to prevent publication with the usual instruments used against the media, and I can imagine them pressing charges", said Ulrich Wehner of Berlin law firm Buchheim and Partners. "When you collect fingerprints and use them to make dummy duplicates, there is indeed a risk of committing at least an administrative offence, if not a crime." Wehner says he is nonetheless impressed with the way in which the Chaos Computer Club is dealing with issues pertaining to home security. "As soon as citizens or journalists start doing what the state has already done millions of times and continues to do when it collects and uses biometric data, we may find state prosecutors knocking on people's door."

In an initial response on Saturday afternoon, Germany's Home Affairs Office did not seem concerned. "It has been known for years that fingerprints can be obtained from glass", a spokesperson for the ministry told heise online. The spokesperson said that the CCC's action does not call the concept of electronic passports into question. The ministry did not, however, wish to confirm that the fingerprint published is actually Wolfgang Schäuble's. The spokesperson did not rule out legal action against the CCC. (Torsten Kleinz)


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