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EU data protection chief slams police data sharing treaty

Questions 'democratic legitimacy'

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The European Commission, pushed by the European Council, neglected its statutory obligation to ensure its initiatives are democratically accountable, transparent, and planned wisely, when considering plans for police data sharing the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) said yesterday.

The EDPS took the unusual step of speaking out of turn on the Treaty of Prüm, a legislative measure designed to give European police forces a legal basis for sharing data with one another. There's nothing wrong with sharing data to catch baddies, but the framework has been knocked up in such a hurry since the treaty was signed in May 2005 that the EDPS is worried it pays scant regard to the liberties of ordinary people.

Moreover, the EDPS has criticised the "democratic legitimacy" of the initiative and even raised questions about its legal basis.

"One could argue that the Prüm convention breaches the law of the European Union, for the reasons mentioned above," said the EDPS in the opinion. But, it added, as it's all about introducing European law into an area where it has minimal jurisdiction anyway, it's "mainly theoretical".

The EDPS's problem stemmed from the way in which Prüm was established. European police wanted to share data, but the law restricted them. An EU framework that would allow them to share is working through the Brussels mangle, but is likely to take a long time. So a coterie of seven member states broke away from the EU and met in Prüm to establish the basis for their own data sharing arrangement.

As there were only seven and not eight states in Prüm they were able to sketch out their treaty without any recourse to the EDPS, which is supposed to make sure that data sharing is done with respect to civil rights. Hence, the EDPS's opinion today includes some serious reservations about the credentials of the treaty - and not only because it wasn't invited to the party.

This might become more of a problem as the Prüm lot appear to have queue jumped their way through the EU legislative process. Another eight member states have agreed to join the Prüm seven, while some of the originals have already ratified the treaty into national law. They are now presenting this for a vote in the council, where the treaty must be unanimously accepted, but it has effectively been presented as a fait accompli.

"As a result, other member states are denied a real say in the choice of rules," the EDPS said.

"It denies all need for a democratic and transparent legislative process since it does not even respect the already very limited prerogatives under the third pillar" (The third pillar being the area of police and judicial matters over which the EU has so little influence).

The EDPS said there had been no time to assess how well Prüm helped police work, except for some hasty results thrown out of tentative links between Germany and Austria in December. Prüm was only supposed to be a "test lab" anyway.

Neither had it tested the consequences for civil liberties. And then there were a raft of data protection failures in the legislation, such as its limp description of how DNA might be collected and what use might be made of hearsay.

As the EDPS put it, Prüm might not adhere to the principles of "necessity and proportionality". ®

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