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EU and Lords highlight hurdles

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Police data sharing across the Atlantic and within European is being stymied by technical hurdles and caution over privacy and operational security.

This morning, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) issued an opinion on a joint EU-US report aimed at setting up improved transatlantic police cooperation, which was presented by the Presidency of the European Union (EU) in June 2008. The report defined common principles on privacy and data protection as a first step towards terrorism and major-crimes information sharing between the EU and the United States (US) to fight terrorism and serious transnational crime.

"A dialogue on 'transatlantic law enforcement' is at the same time welcome and sensitive," said Peter Hustinx, the Supervisor.

"It is welcome in the sense that it could give a clearer framework to the exchanges of data that are or will be taking place. It is also sensitive as it could legitimise massive data transfers in a field - law enforcement - where the impact on individuals is particularly serious, and where strict and reliable safeguards are all the more needed."

Full steam ahead then? Not really, Hustinx suggests "Additional work on outstanding issues should therefore be completed before considering an agreement."

Meanwhile the UK's House of Lords Europe committee debated intra-European police data cooperation, discussing the Europol Information System (EIS) - which is seen as conflicting with the parallel Overall Analysis System for Intelligence and Support (Oasis).

"In terms of the better use of the Europol Information System, I suppose a start would be to get properly connected to it, which we are not," said Assistant chief constable Nick Gargan of Thames Valley Police, giving evidence to the Lords.

"The second thing is, if there are 62,000 entries on the system, we need to be confident that they are the right 62,000 entries ... If Europol seeks to position itself, as it does, at the low volume high end of the criminal investigative market, it is critically important that those 62,000 entries are the right people."

Quite apart from technical issues like this, and obvious privacy concerns like those evinced by the EU's Hustinx, it appears that many coppers are simply reluctant to trust their foreign colleagues with sensitive operational information, especially while investigations are ongoing. This helps to prevent leaks, but also stops pooling of information which could bring criminals to justice, according to the Lords' report.

SOCA expect to be properly hooked up to the EIS within two years. Even so it seems that even then the long-anticipated police database hookups, feared by international master crims and privacy campaigners alike, may yet be some way off.

The Lords' report is here. ®

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