Statewatch News Online: Policy shift as Italy signs up to the Prüm Treaty

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Policy shift as Italy signs up to the Prüm Treaty

On 4 July 2006 in Berlin, the Italian Interior Minister, Giuliano Amato, and his German counterpart Wolfgang Schäuble signed a joint declaration whereby Italy declares its intention to join the Prüm Treaty. This was signed on 25 May 2005 by Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and The Netherlands, which seeks to establish an infrastructure to step up cross-border cooperation, particularly to combat terrorism, cross-border crime and illegal immigration.

This would make Italy the first country to join this multi-lateral treaty, marking a clear shift from the policy of Amato's predecessor, Giuseppe Pisanu, who expressed his reservations when he was in office in response to a question by Amato as to why Italy had not taken part in the initiative, although he did not rule out Italy joining it in the future. Pisanu's reservations ranged from structural aspects - the fact that Italy does not have legislation for the establishment of a DNA database, to policy issues: the use of air marshals on flights, which he described as not being suited to "our methodology in the field of security, which… mainly rests upon prevention", and the absence of a clear legal framework - exchanges of personal information would have to be subject to two international agreements that had not yet been ratified by Italy.

In an appearance before the Italian parliament's Commission on constitutional affairs on 20 June 2006, Amato stated his intention to speed up the process of Italy joining the Prüm Treaty (aka Schengen III), expressing his surprise at Italy not having been invited to take part in the process from the start: "because we are part of the informal group known as 5+1 that has the maximum level of operative integration, including on the matter of security, within the European Union". He acknowledged the problem of having to establish a DNA database, but argued that the fact that they would be alphanumeric codes rather than biological samples, and that they would be used "to increase our security", rather than "to harm us", means that this development would not violate privacy rights as well as being "in our interest".

Although it is presented as a largely uncontroversial issue to advance police cooperation in the field of security between the member states that are signatories, the Prüm Treaty marks an important watershed, because it regulates new practices (unprecedented in some countries, like the deployment of air marshals), decreeing that they must be developed with a view to implementing a high degree of information exchange between national police forces, which is not limited to terrorism or serious crime. It requires contracting parties to establish DNA profile databases, which the other contracting parties will be able to check on request for the purpose of prosecuting criminal activity, and to be able to run automatic comparisons of fingerprints in partner countries' fingerprint databases, when an individual is identified, for both the prosecution and "prevention" of criminal activity. The treaty allows cooperation and the exchange of personal data in relation to political demonstrations and other mass events and to prevent terrorist attacks, regulates the deployment of air marshals on commercial flights and of immigration liaison officers (ILOs) in countries of origin or transit, establishing national contact points to coordinate the activity of ILOs, and authorises the carrying out of joint deportations (a practice which has already been carried out on a number of occasions outside of the Prüm framework - it thus provides legal backing to existing practices).

The Prüm Convention also widens the scope for cross-border policing giving officers from partner countries executive powers to carry out arrests or participate in public order duties in exceptional circumstances (again, extending practices that already existing at a bilateral level, such as the German-Swiss police treaty of 1999, see Statewatch news online, July 2005).

It is noteworthy that an initiative of this significance was adopted on a multi-lateral intergovernmental basis, with a hard core of countries negotiating and signing up to an initiative and leaving the door open for other countries to join later, rather than developing this process through EU channels. This may be a way for national governments to avoid substantive debate (and, potentially, public disagreement) prior to the signing of international agreements on important issues that are portrayed as uncontroversial in the development of cooperation in the fields of security and police cooperation, including the so-called "principle of availability", which is promoted by JHA Commissioner Franco Frattini for adoption throughout this field.

Both Frattini and Amato must be aware of events in Italy that highlight the possible implications of the proliferation of law enforcement databases and of the wide degree of access that the "principle of availablity" envisages.

In July 2005, investigating magistrates uncovered a self-styled anti-terrorist information unit, DSSA (Dipartimento di Studi Strategici Antiterroristi), which was run by fascists and had been operative since March 2004, carrying out surveillance operations targeting the Muslim community (see Statewatch vol. 15 nos. 3/4, May - August 2005). It enjoyed access to information held in the databases of law enforcement agencies as a result of involvement in the organisation by members of the police, carabinieri (Italy's paramilitary police force), the Guardia di Finanza (customs and excise police) and the polizia penitenziaria (prison police).

As for DNA databases, it has surfaced that, in spite of the absence of legislation for them to be set up, the carabinieri's RIS (Reparto Investigazioni Scientifiche) unit in Parma stores information in "software that we have developed in-house", according to a major from the RIS unit (see Statewatch vol. 16 no. 2, March-April 2006). The newspaper L'Unità broke the news on 16 May 2006, in relation to a complaint filed before the Italian data protection ombudsman's authority by Francesco Coran, a lawyer from Bolzano. He was representing an Albanian man who had been involved in an investigation into a rape in 1999, during which 400 DNA samples were collected from suspects, without any of them matching the culprit's genetic profile. A DNA sample taken from the scene of a robbery for which he was standing trial was matched against this original profile, drawing criticism from Coran because "the RIS did not destroy the results of the test as it should have in accordance with what the law on privacy establishes". Moreover, L'Unità cites carabinieri sources revealing that "apart from the software that manages the genetic profile of at least 15,000 people, on the second floor of the RIS office in Parma, there are at least five or six fridges where the test tubes with watery solutions of biological matter are preserved… Inside these freezers, there is genetic matter that has yet to be tested, but also some that concerns cases that have already been shelved".


1. Full-text of the Prüm Treaty

2. Italian interior ministry press statement, 4.7.2006

3. Transcript of the intervention by interior minister Giuliano Amato before the Chamber of Deputies (parliament) Commission on Constitutional Affairs, 20.6.2006.

4. Italy: Interior minister details reservations on the Prüm Convention (Schengen III), Statewatch news online, January 2006:

5. Some remarks on Schengen III, Statewatch news online, July 2005

Filed 6 July 2006

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