Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/02/16/prum_promoted/

EU police database on Brussels agenda

Stewed Prüm

By Mark Ballard

Posted in Law, 16th February 2007 16:07 GMT

The European Council has endorsed a pan-European police database that was established by a small club of countries outside the European framework last year.

The German presidency of the EU plans to push the legislation through the European Parliament by the end of its term on 30 June. It expects the proposal, for the integration of police databases across Europe, to be implemented by the end of the year.

"Our aim is to create a modern police information network for more effective crime control throughout Europe," the council said in a statement.

Austria and Germany, the core members of Prüm, opened their police DNA databases to one another in December 2006. The German Presidency declared in a statement that the two police forces had found 2,900 matches in enquiries made on each other's databases under the scheme. It did not say how many enquiries were made, nor how many of those matches were useful to police enquiries. Nor how they compared to traditional methods on either cost or results.

It did say that 32 of the 3,000 enquiries "related to homicides". Pushed for further information, the Presidency was also unable to say what the other 2,868 enquiries were about.

Prüm is two-speed Europe in action. Officials who backed the scheme said it was set-up outside the European framework to see if it worked so a more rigorous proposal could be passed to legislators in Brussels. The Prüm treaty was indeed designed to be passed into European law, but the lead members have only been operating for three months. The most significant change to the treaty since seven member states signed up to it on 27 May 2005 was that another nine countries had either signed or acceded.

The proposal the council has put forward to the Parliament is effectively the Prüm treaty. The Parliament is eager to get its hands on the proposal to give it proper scrutiny. Having been fast-tracked it has snuck in front of other proposals in Brussels' agenda that are also related to data sharing among the police and security services.

One of these, the European Framework for Data Protection in the Third Pillar, is already working its way through the sausage machine, but slowly. It proposes an over-arching data protection law to cover the police and security services that currently escape its scrutiny. It would allow some police data sharing.

Prüm has allowed member states to press ahead with their plans for a pan-European database without waiting for the necessary legal cover. It does contain data protection provisions, but critics said they were derived directly from the 1981 Council of Europe Convention 108, which was the Neanderthal predecessor of the 95/96 data protection framework.

Wolfgang Schäuble, the German interior minister, was quoted in the Presidency's statement saying that the Prüm treaty contained "extensive data protection provisions which comply with the latest high standards".

One critic in Brussels said he wasn't able to bring any specific complaints to bear on the treaty's protections yet because it had yet to be examined thoroughly by the legislature.

Ben Hayes, researcher at civil liberties group Statewatch, said Prüm had been foisted on Europe.

"Ministers say the EU don't move fast enough and before they've even implemented [Prüm] themselves they've presented it as European policy," he said.

The same approach had been taken with the Schengen agreement for shared European borders, he said: "One academic described it as a black market for European integration," he said.

The same people who were in the working parties that implemented Schengen outside of the EU Framework were the same people who populated the European working parties that worked it into Community law, he said.

Enough European officials are so exasperated with the time it takes to put legislation through proper scrutiny that they have the commission build computer systems before they've even got the go-ahead.

A raft of related systems that cannot presently share information because of civil protections are nevertheless being established with a common biometric database as a foundation. This database, the Biometric Management System (BMS), will have spokes leading into the various criminal and immigration databases being built by the commission.

These include the Schengen Information System and the Visa Information System. Other biometric databases, such as the Automated Fingerprint Identification System for police, and the Eurodac immigrant fingerprint system, might be tagged on as well. Though having a physically identical foundation in the BMS, these are being built as logically separate applications that can be combined easily in the future if the law changes.

The BMS, which was tendered last autumn but for which the commission has ignored our requests for information, is effectively a single biometric database for all EU police and immigration databases.

However, one advocate of Prüm in Brussels said the pan-European database would share no infrastructure with Schengen because the two systems were not related.

This may be a somewhat naive interpretation of the purely logical distinctions being built into the BMS' various spokes.

Prüm gives European police forces different levels of access to one another's databases according to their type. It allows direct access to vehicle databases. But DNA and fingerprint records can only be queried on a "hit/no hit" basis, which merely means they can't browse the database - they get access to any records that are delivered in response to their search query.

The treaty takes a yet more "liberal" approach to the worst of all suspects - terrorists and "travelling violent offenders".

"To prevent terrorist offences, personal information about potential perpetrators of terrorist attacks may also be shared," said the Presidency's statement.

"For the purposes of prevention, the treaty allows the authorities to exchange information on travelling violent offenders, such as hooligans, related to major events," it said.

The Presidency said it could not elaborate on these statements. ®