France's 'Mega-Database' Halted for Data Breach Fears

( [email protected] ) Nov 19, 2016 10:49 PM EST
France's so-called "mega-database" holding biometric data of over 60 million people was recently questioned and data collection operations were also ceased.
Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas, the database's proponent back in 2012. Getty Images

France's so-called "mega-database" holding biometric data of over 60 million people was recently questioned and data collection operations were also ceased.

The single mega-database, aptly named Secure Electronic Documents (Titres électroniques sécurisés or TES), was set up to fight against fraud and to increase the capability and efficiency of authorities to catch criminals.

According to France's Interior Ministry, personal information including name, address, marital status, eye color, weight, photograph, fingerprints, passports and national ID cards will be collected and stored.

Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas, the database's initial proponent, says that TES works just like a regular administrative registry. Data cannot be accessed any time by anyone unless there is a legal need for it.

But now, the database's initial proponent is also its biggest challenger.

Urvoas laid out the concept back in 2012 to be a multi-dimensional and multi-local database which every county, city and municipality can update. The multi-locality concept has then been scrapped, and the move to a single mega-database system is what Urvoas opposes.

He says that the move to a single database makes data highly vulnerable to hacks and breaches.

Others have shared the same sentiment.

According to CNNum (Conseil National du Numérique), France's digital watchdog, a single database would create a "target of inestimable value" that can unsurprisingly be a day-and-night goal to breach by many hackers.

Especially with France's on-going struggle with public safety, and the country on High Alert on travel advisories due to "ongoing threats to France by Islamist terrorist groups.. and recent French military intervention against Daesh," the timing cannot be less than vulnerable to people taking an interest in intercepting France's database.

The European Convention on Human Rights and a French senator have also expressed their concerns with protecting and respecting people's privacy. As the senator goes, TES is a "time bomb for public freedoms."

If France's TES gets approved, the database will be open to around 10,000 government staff who can have regular access to it.

The data breach threat is far from hearsay as early this year, Turkey became a witness to a massive public outcry when personal details of almost 50 million people were hacked. Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag went to confirm that the number of hacked accounts is comparable to the number of registered voters in the country. Details hacked include names, addresses, ID numbers and contact details.

The U.S. was not exempt as well. Back in 2015, U.S. government networks were breached and over 5.6 million fingerprint records were stolen from the Office of Personal Management (OPM). Along with biometrics, names, addresses, medical data, financial data, ID details, and social security numbers were stolen.