Saturday, January 29
Укр Eng
Log In Register
10 October, 2011  ▪  Ivan Hryhoriev

Attack By Passport

The introduction of biometric national IDs will violate citizens’ rights and may be conducive to misuse of their personal data

Ukraineis introducing new national and international passports and a number of other forms of personal identification with electronic microchips. That is, if the bill “On Documents that Identify a Person and Prove Ukrainian Citizenship” is made into law. After the Verkhovna Rada passed the bill on September 23, only two steps remain to be taken: the president’s signature and official publication. The supporters of the law rationalize it as a measure that will help Ukrainians travel abroad. In November 2011, an action plan to liberalize the EU visa procedure for Ukraine was adopted, and President Viktor Yanukovych issued a decree to this effect on April 22, 2011. Under this decree, legislation must be adopted to introduce international passports with an electronic medium and biometric information in compliance with the guidelines of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). But, importantly, the decree mentions only international passports. Neither the EU-Ukraine action plan, nor the presidential edict says anything about the need to upgrade national IDs. However, MPs decided to think big and have microchips installed in national passports and many other types of IDs.


Not only were national passports included in the bill, but the redaction that passed the first reading also mandated that currently valid Ukrainian passports be “exchanged” for two other, almost identical documents: a passport card (PC) and a citizen ID. The card was actually defined as the “primary document that identifies a person and proves Ukrainian citizenship inside the country.”

Experts believe that the desire to transform document circulation under the slogan of simplification is motivated by money. Ernest Hramatsky, president of Hramatsky and Partners, says: “Apologists for reformers often quote from conclusions published by international specialists about the technical imperfection of Ukrainian passports. However, for some reason they quietly omit quotations from those conclusions that speak about non-transparent schemes of government purchases when it comes to producing IDs and providing related services.” Independent experts say that the law reflects primarily the interests of individual businesses that will obtain government orders to produce these IDs.

A digitized image of the ID holder and his or her signature will be stored in passport cards in addition to other information. The law does not define what a digitized signature is, but one can guess by using the analogy of the digitized image which is an image of a person’s face saved electronically using a digital camera. Experts surmise that once these novelties are implemented, fraudulent activities involving signatures will not subside, to say the least. Passport cards use contactless information storage that contains, among other things, biometric data. This essentially strips fraud victims of any presumption of innocence. Hramatsky notes: “Arguments in favor of limiting access to databases, installing unheard-of protection systems and using encryption do not stand up to criticism. Figuratively speaking, any database set up by our government or ends up being used by the government can be found as contraband on the Petrivka market a week later.”

Considering that contactless storage can be scanned at a distance, it is unlikely that someone can guarantee 100% that unsanctioned collection, storage and use of information about PC holders will not occur. Under the new law, a passport card may store, on a written request of the applicant, ‘additional changing information.’ But the text does not give a clear answer to the question: Who is the ‘applicant’ – the state (which owns the PC) or the citizen who becomes its user? Second, the list of additional information ends with “etc.” No one can guarantee that in this way the voluntary addition of certain data will not be replaced by forced necessity with time: contactless microchips can store nearly anything at all.

In general, experts note that storing various pieces of data in passports contradicts the Constitution – Article 24, to be exact. Viktoria Tisnohuz, partner at the AKTIO law firm, explains: “What raises concerns is a situation when passports begin to store different types and amounts of information. This may violate the constitutional principle of equality of citizens.”


Under the new law, chips are to be installed in a whole range of IDs and their forms are to be changed: passport cards; international and other passports; driver’s licenses (some old ones will become invalid as of January 1, 2014); IDs issued to sailors, crew members, disabled people, insured persons, pensioners, receivers of social benefits, and so on. The Chief Expert Directorate of the Verkhovna Rada says this is approach unjustified, because pensioner and other types of IDs do not so much identify their holders as confirm their membership in a certain social group or category. It is quite strange that, under the law, all these IDs in the form of cards have to meet ICAO requirements. The latter pertain only to “travel documents” that identify a person and prove citizenship for the purposes of border crossing and staying in a foreign country.

Unjustifiably high requirements are set on the process of producing IDs, which will greatly raise production costs. However, the underprivileged seem to have been spared: under the latest redaction of the law, the government will pay for pension IDs and disabled person IDs out of the budget. But other social IDs will likely cost their holders a pretty penny – without these pieces of plastic people simply will not be able to exercise their rights. Tisnohuz notes that charging money for these IDs will contradict Article 22 of the Constitution.

Verkhovna Rada experts say in their conclusion that “the introduction of the passport card with a 10-year expiration period and the production of other documents in which contactless electronic data storage will be embedded will put a much greater burden on responsible government agencies and will entail additional national budget expenses.” It is an easy guess who will be at the paying end – the consumer, as always.


The scariest part of this effort is the attempt, which has almost succeeded, to collect and systematize in electronic format personal information about all adults and children without exception. The fear is due to the fact that Ukrainian cyberspace is poorly protected and the current government is eager to control everyone and everything. The law mandates all citizens obtain microchipped cards for contactless reading that can contain biometric information, which means a collection of personal data “gathered based on fixing a person’s parameters that are sufficiently stable and significantly different from analogous parameters of other persons.” (There are 16 types of biometric data in the international classification: image of the iris, fingerprints, etc.) The scope of this data and the technical requirements to the form of biometric data storage will be set by the government in compliance with ICAO documents. Hramatsky notes that this reliance on Cabinet of Ministers regulations is at odds with Article 92 of the Constitution and the Law “On the Protection of Personal Data.”

All the information will flow to the State Information System (SIS), but access to it will be open one way or another to ministries and other executive bodies. New data about a person will be added to his or her file in SIS in chronological order, while previous data will be kept. In other words, in addition to general information the file may contain all kinds of additional data, such as products purchased with the social card, the time and itinerary of travel in public transport, payments of utility bills, bank credits and deposits, property owned, health condition, etc. In a word, it is Lavrentiy Beria’s dream come true: show me a person, and I’ll find a crime.

“Unlike in EU countries, people in uniforms are in charge of the passport system in Ukraine, so arguably the greatest threat posed by the new biometric passport is that it will be conducive to a police state,” MP Yuriy Kliuchkovsky warns. He said he thinks that the state could misuse personal data: “Even in order — putting it bluntly — to fabricate the necessary evidence.”


Elmar Brok, German MEP:

“MEPs want to implement visa facilitation as soon as possible, but the Ukrainian side must first achieve the necessary standards. Now (after the Verkhovna Rada has passed a law on biometric foreign passports. – Ed.) we will need to take a closer look at what is minimally necessary in passport specifications in order to meet the security requirement of destination countries. It is only on this basis that we can talk about cancelling visas. The passport has to be tied to the person’s identity and be suitable for checking to an extent that there is no possibility of it being faked and then we can do away with visas. Old passports can easily be faked… However, we should also be sure that the law on biometric passports does not contain any unnecessary things in addition to the European requirements.”

Jeroen van Beek, a researcher at the University of Amsterdam, needed a mere USD 100 to buy two microchips and a card reader and about an hour to clone and manipulate two passport chips of valid British passports. He inserted the image of Osama bin Laden and Hiba Darghmeh, a Palestinian suicide bomber, into the IDs. The microchips he produced were accepted as valid by Golden Reader, the software used by ICAO at airports.

Related publications:

Copyright © Ukrainian Week LLC. All rights reserved.
Reprint or other commercial use of the site materials is allowed only with the editorial board permission.
Legal disclaimer Accessibility Privacy policy Terms of use Contact us