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Brussels rolls coppers over rights barrel

Rearguard action to restrict police data sharing

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Civil libertarians are holding the security hawks in Brussels to ransom over plans to share police data across the continent.

Ensconced in the European Parliament, they have no say in a European Commission proposal for data sharing between European police forces because security matters are outside their legal competence.

But the Parliament does have a say over another proposal working its way through the Brussels policy mangle, that of the Visa Information System (VIS), which when it gets approved (the Commission is busy building it anyway) will become the electronic brain at the heat of Fortress Europe.

The police, meanwhile, want their data sharing to be unfettered by the principles of human rights in established data protection law. (Despite the name of their framework, the "protection of personal data processed in the framework of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters").

But they also want unfettered access to the VIS. So Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, Parliament rapporteur for the VIS policy, is trying to get them over a barrel.

"We are battling to get European data protection rules on handling law enforcement information. We are trying to bring that into a tripartite package using the leverage we have on the VIS," said Ludford.

The third element is a bridging clause that contains the rules that will govern police access to the VIS. The Parliament have no say over that instrument either. But they do have control of the hinge - a single clause in the VIS framework that gives the police permission to access it.

As long as Ludford has the backing of the Parliament, the police will only get their hands on immigration data if they smarten up their ideas about data protection. They are being told they should have restricted access to data so they can't go data trawling, that there should be an audit trail, that people should have a right to redress and that no immigration data should be shared with third countries.

The funny thing is that the people running the member states that are pushing this through the Council, who lecture plebs about their rights and responsibilities, seem to forget their mantra when it comes to police matters. Sanctimonious hawks? Whatever next?®

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