ROME An Italian parliamentary panel gave initial approval Wednesday to a plan to fingerprint everyone in the country, a move that could defuse criticism over a mandatory program to fingerprint Gypsies.
The House of Deputies finance commission gave the go-ahead to funding for fingerprinting starting in 2010 for national identity cards, which are required for Italian citizens and foreigners living in Italy. Now, the cards feature the cardholder's photo.
The campaign by Premier Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government to fingerprint tens of thousands of Gypsies, also known as Roma, who live in ramshackle camps on the outskirts of many Italian cities and towns, earned a sharp rebuke from the European Union.
UNICEF, the Council of Europe and the Italian chapter of rights group Amnesty International have also denounced the fingerprinting of Gypsies.
Fingerprinting began a few weeks ago in Gypsy camps in Naples. The government insists the program is needed to establish who is living in the country illegally and to spur efforts to get Gypsy children to attend school.
The parliamentary commission's move might ease some of the international criticism by requiring fingerprints for everybody.
But Interior Minister Robert Maroni insisted fingerprinting of Gypsies is going forward as part of a crackdown on crime, which many Italians blame on foreigners.
Christian Democrat opposition leader Pier Ferdinando Casini praised the plan to extend the fingerprint requirement to everyone.
The identity card plan is good, "even for our own children, because it would have been racist just to have taken fingerprints from Gypsy children," Casini said.
Italy's top official on privacy issues, Francesco Pizzetti, said in his annual report to Parliament on Wednesday that fingerprinting based on ethnicity or religion would violate Italy's Constitution.