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Ben Hayes, researcher at civil liberties group Statewatch, said Prüm had been foisted on Europe.

"Ministers say the EU don't move fast enough and before they've even implemented [Prüm] themselves they've presented it as European policy," he said.

The same approach had been taken with the Schengen agreement for shared European borders, he said: "One academic described it as a black market for European integration," he said.

The same people who were in the working parties that implemented Schengen outside of the EU Framework were the same people who populated the European working parties that worked it into Community law, he said.

Enough European officials are so exasperated with the time it takes to put legislation through proper scrutiny that they have the commission build computer systems before they've even got the go-ahead.

A raft of related systems that cannot presently share information because of civil protections are nevertheless being established with a common biometric database as a foundation. This database, the Biometric Management System (BMS), will have spokes leading into the various criminal and immigration databases being built by the commission.

These include the Schengen Information System and the Visa Information System. Other biometric databases, such as the Automated Fingerprint Identification System for police, and the Eurodac immigrant fingerprint system, might be tagged on as well. Though having a physically identical foundation in the BMS, these are being built as logically separate applications that can be combined easily in the future if the law changes.

The BMS, which was tendered last autumn but for which the commission has ignored our requests for information, is effectively a single biometric database for all EU police and immigration databases.

However, one advocate of Prüm in Brussels said the pan-European database would share no infrastructure with Schengen because the two systems were not related.

This may be a somewhat naive interpretation of the purely logical distinctions being built into the BMS' various spokes.

Prüm gives European police forces different levels of access to one another's databases according to their type. It allows direct access to vehicle databases. But DNA and fingerprint records can only be queried on a "hit/no hit" basis, which merely means they can't browse the database - they get access to any records that are delivered in response to their search query.

The treaty takes a yet more "liberal" approach to the worst of all suspects - terrorists and "travelling violent offenders".

"To prevent terrorist offences, personal information about potential perpetrators of terrorist attacks may also be shared," said the Presidency's statement.

"For the purposes of prevention, the treaty allows the authorities to exchange information on travelling violent offenders, such as hooligans, related to major events," it said.

The Presidency said it could not elaborate on these statements. ®

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