EC outlines anti-terror database measures
VIS, SIS and EURODAC
The European Commission last week adopted two measures designed to assist in the fight against terrorism and serious crime by improving the development of and access to common European databases.
Of particular interest to the Commission in this context are the databases for the planned Visa Information System (VIS), the Schengen Information System (SIS) and EURODAC.
The VIS is intended to be a system for the exchange of visa data between Member States and thus primarily an instrument to support the common visa policy. It will also facilitate checks at the external borders and within the Member States, assisting the exchange of data between Member States on applications and on the decisions in respect of those applications.
Following a recently adopted proposal on accessing the VIS, Member States authorities responsible for internal security and Europol will be entitled to consult the database for the purposes of the prevention, detection and investigation of terrorist offences and the types of crime and offences in respect of which Europol is competent to act.
SIS and SIS II
SIS is the system that currently enables competent authorities to obtain information regarding certain categories of persons and property in relation to the free movement of people and police cooperation. SIS II will replace the current intergovernmental Schengen Information System with EU legislation and enable the enlargement of the Schengen area to the new Member States.
It works by allowing authorities, through an automatic query procedure, to obtain information related to alerts on persons and objects, and is used, in particular, for police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, as well as for the control of persons at the external borders or on national territories and for the issuance of visas and residence permits. The SIS has been operational since March 1995 and now includes 13 EU Member States plus Norway and Iceland. UK and Ireland do not yet participate in the SIS but will do so in the future. However, the involvement of these countries will be limited to the exchange of information supporting police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.
SIS II will allow for the integration of new Member States into the system, and allow all members of the Schengen states to benefit from improvements in technology, bringing about, says the Commission, more security and more efficiency.
Since 15 January 2003, the fingerprints of anyone over the age of 14 who applies for asylum in the EU (except Denmark, for the time being), in Norway and in Iceland have been stored in a database called EURODAC. EURODAC was created in the context of the development of an asylum policy common to all the Member States of the European Union.
Agreements have been recently signed with Denmark and Switzerland in order to make EURODAC applicable to those states as well.
EURODAC aims at facilitating the so-called Dublin II Regulation, which determines the Member State responsible for examining an asylum application. This Regulation establishes a series of criteria that allocate responsibility for examining an asylum application to the Member State that permitted the applicant to enter or to reside. That Member State is responsible for examining the application according to its national law and is obliged to take back its applicants who are irregularly in another Member State.
Access to the system is restricted to the sole purposes stated in the EURODAC Regulation. It does not contain details such as the name of a person because it relies only on biometric comparison and each participating state ensures that the national supervisory authority on data protection monitors independently the lawfulness of the processing of the data.
EURODAC is the first common Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) within the European Union.
The new Commission measures
Vice-President Franco Frattini, Commissioner responsible for Justice, Freedom and Security, said yesterday: "It is essential in the fight against terrorism and organised crime for the relevant services of the Member States and relevant bodies of the European Union, such as Europol, to have the fullest and most up-to-date information if they are to perform their tasks properly and effectively."
The new proposals include a Council Decision that will set out how and when Europol and the security agencies of Member States will be entitled to access the VIS. Basically, they will be given guaranteed access to VIS in the course of their duties in relation to the prevention, detection and investigation of criminal offences, including terrorist acts and threats, subject to strict compliance with the rules governing the protection of personal data.
The Commission has also adopted a communication on the medium-and long-term development of the VIS, the SIS and EURODAC.
The Commission says this tackles the technical issues involved in interoperability and synergies among systems (either already in operation or under development) and goes on to show how these systems could, in addition to their existing roles, more effectively underpin the policies linked to the free movement of persons and contribute to the fight against terrorism and organised crime.
The communication also looks into the possibility of taking forward other initiatives, for example the establishment of a system for monitoring entry and exit movements and a system making it easier for frequent travellers to cross external borders, or the creation of a European criminal Automated Fingerprints Identification System (AFIS).
According to the Commission, the communication does not prejudge the outcome of an essential in-depth debate on the proposals, which will have to balance the need for the measures against the protection of fundamental rights (with special reference to the protection of personal data), as embodied in the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
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