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Europe makes 'progress' on police data protection

Regression, says human rights expert

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The European Council has swept aside widespread reservations about its proposals for a police data protection law.

The German Presidency of the European Union claimed in a statement last week that its revised proposal for data protection in the third pillar had been so well received by other member states that it might even make "significant progress" on the measure by the end of its tenure in July.

The Presidency has refused to publish its revised draft proposal. It is a controversial measure that would give European police forces powers to share data about criminals and suspected criminals. But the parts of the proposal designed to make sure police data gathering respects the fundamental rights of citizens might have been significantly watered down.

Writing for campaign group Statewatch this week, Professor Steven Peers of the University of Essex Human Rights Centre said the original proposal had very low standards of data protection. The new draft was even weaker.

The Presidency said council members had 250 reservations about the old proposal. Three quarters of those had been silenced by the new draft.

It did not mention the reservations of the European Parliament, which is keen to temper the hawkish temperament of the council and recently noted how Europe was faithfully replicating the US's post-9/11 approach to home security, even though the US was now starting to wonder whether its infamous Patriot Act had intruded too far on the rights of its citizens. That is partly because the Parliament has virtually no say in how the law is introduced.

According to Professor Peers, who has seen the draft agreement, it ignored 60 amendments proposed by the Parliament.

Franco Frattini, European commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, told a press conference about the council meeting last week: "After strengthening the security related elements of our European common space...the time has come to strike the right balance between more security...and more protection of basic rights of people involved in proceedings."

Peers, however, gave a long list of ways in which the proposal dropped long established standards of data protection.

Data no longer had to be processed "fairly and lawfully". It did not have to be collected "only for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes". Concern about the accuracy of police data had been neglected, with a distinction between facts and "mere" intelligence being dropped.

Another proposal to assign different levels of data protection to different categories of people, such as convicts, suspects and victims, had also been dropped. This idea had previously been applauded by the European Data Protection Supervisor.

There is also no mention of what protections should be applied to data held about people whose sentences have been spent. That's quite a balancing act. ®

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