Feeds

Brussels blocks UK from biometric superdatabase

Intelligence defeat for spooks

Intelligent flash storage arrays

European judges have rejected an attempt by British security officials to gain access to a huge new store of visa application data being set up to combat illegal immigration, organised crime and terrorism.

The government went to court to force the EU to allow agencies such as MI5, SOCA and the UK Border Agency to use the Visa Information System (VIS), which will store details of every foreigner who applies to enter the bloc, including their fingerprints and photograph. Intelligence on those who have previously been refused a visa by another country is seen as particularly valuable.

Work on the system was agreed following the 2004 Madrid bombings, which killed 191. It is currently being implemented, with travellers from terrorism hotspots in North Africa and the Middle East the first to be affected. Once it covers all visas, the VIS is set to become the world's largest store of biometric data.

The data will be shared among intelligence and law enforcement agencies of every signatory to the Schengen Agreement, which allows their citizens of member countries to cross EU borders freely. Because Britain is not a member, however, and requires EU visitors to carry a passport, our authorities will be excluded following a ruling by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

"We are disappointed in the court's decision," a Home Office spokesman said.

"Although the UK retains independent border controls, we saw value in having access to information on visas issued by our European counterparts to assist in criminal investigations and to help clamp down on fraudulent visa applications."

Lawyers for the government argued that Britain should be included in the VIS because it will act as a law enforcement cooperation measure, rather than part of Schengen, the main aim of which is free movement and immigration control. British agencies were offering to grant EU countries access to our visa application records, the Central Reference System, in return.

"UK participation in the [VIS] would be beneficial as not only would VIS become an important source of intelligence for UK law enforcement authorities, but other member states would also benefit from access to our richly populated visa information database," the Home Office spokesman said.

The court agreed with the Schengen members and the European Commission, however, that Britain's rejection of the Schengen Agreement means it cannot share the new database. There is no possibility of an appeal.

The defeat is a blow to efforts by British agencies to gather more "PROTINT" - intelligence from protected information, ie stores of personal data. Sir David Omand, a former director of GCHQ and Cabinet Office intelligence coordinator, last year highlighted the growing importance of such sources.

"Access to such information, and in some cases to the ability to apply data mining and pattern recognition software to databases, might well be the key to effective pre-emption in future terrorist cases," he said.

The Home Office said despite the defeat British agencies are able to access intelligence from European immigration databases.

"Although we will not have direct access to visa refusal information via VIS, we do have indirect access through other EU exchange mechanisms," the spokesman said.

Europol, the EU's criminal intelligence agency, will have direct access to VIS, and may pass information to Britain via SOCA. However, without direct access, VIS data cannot be used as part of the mass passenger profiling announced by Home Secretary Theresa May in the wake of last week's foiled airline bomb plot. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Bladerunner sequel might actually be good. Harrison Ford is in it
Go ahead, you're all clear, kid... Sorry, wrong film
Euro Parliament VOTES to BREAK UP GOOGLE. Er, OK then
It CANNA do it, captain.They DON'T have the POWER!
Musicians sue UK.gov over 'zero pay' copyright fix
Everyone else in Europe compensates us - why can't you?
I'll be back (and forward): Hollywood's time travel tribulations
Quick, call the Time Cops to sort out this paradox!
Megaupload overlord Kim Dotcom: The US HAS RADICALISED ME!
Now my lawyers have bailed 'cos I'm 'OFFICIALLY' BROKE
Forget Hillary, HP's ex CARLY FIORINA 'wants to be next US Prez'
Former CEO has political ambitions again, according to Washington DC sources
prev story

Whitepapers

Seattle children’s accelerates Citrix login times by 500% with cross-tier insight
Seattle Children’s is a leading research hospital with a large and growing Citrix XenDesktop deployment. See how they used ExtraHop to accelerate launch times.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
Why CIOs should rethink endpoint data protection in the age of mobility
Assessing trends in data protection, specifically with respect to mobile devices, BYOD, and remote employees.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Website security in corporate America
Find out how you rank among other IT managers testing your website's vulnerabilities.