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Watchdog barks at EU plan to hand asylum-seeker database to cops

Brussels says it's fighting terrorism but EDPS calls it 'erosion of rights'

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The EU's privacy watchdog has slammed plans to grant police access to Europe's database of asylum seekers' fingerprints.

In an opinion [PDF] published by the EU's data protection supervisor (EDPS) on Wednesday, Peter Hustinx hit out at the European Commission's move, claiming it represented an "erosion of fundamental rights". He said:

Just because the data has already been collected, it should not be used for another purpose which may have a far-reaching negative impact on the lives of individuals. To intrude upon the privacy of individuals and risk stigmatising them requires strong justification and the commission has simply not provided sufficient reason why asylum seekers should be singled out for such treatment.

The fingerprint tech - dubbed EURODAC - has been used by authorities in the EU since 2003. Its original purpose was to help identify third-country nationals* who didn't have any ID documents but who may have previously lodged asylum applications in another member state.

But in May this year, the Eurocrats proposed to "improve" the EURODAC system by opening it up to law enforcement agencies in the EU to help cops prevent, detect and investigate serious crime and terrorist offences.

At the time, the commissioner for home affairs Cecilia Malmström claimed that extending the system's usage to the police would be done "under very limited and specific circumstances to make fingerprint checks against the EURODAC database".

She added that searches could only be carried out after police in the 27 member states had exhausted their inquires on a national level without yielding results.

"Robust safeguards have been introduced to guarantee [in] full the respect of fundamental rights and of privacy and in order to ensure that the right to asylum is not in any way adversely affected," Malmström said.

But the EDPS isn't happy with such apparent assurances and has warned that the commission needs to provide solid evidence to support claims that the EURODAC database should be opened up to police forces across the Union. ®

* A term used to describe people who are in transit and/or applying for visas in countries that are not their country of origin, in order to travel to another country which is also not their country of origin.

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