Centralised biometric database for convicted non-EU nationals also part of "interoperability" agenda
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Proposals published last week by the European Commission will see the development of a new a centralised database holding the criminal records of non-EU citizens, alongside their fingerprints and photographs.
"Although it is possible to exchange information on convictions concerning third country nationals and stateless persons (hereinafter: TCN) through ECRIS [the European Criminal Records Information System] today, there is no procedure or mechanism in place to do so efficiently," says the Commission, and thus a new system is required that will simplify the process and leave the door open for future "interoperability" initiatives with other EU databases and information systems.
Currently Member States' national criminal record systems are networked through the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS). Due to difficulties in ascertaining whether a non-EU national has a criminal record in another EU Member State (the process available under ECRIS requires the authorities sending requests to all other Member States to see whether they hold any such records), an additional system for non-EU nationals is now to be established.
The possibility of establishing a centralised system for non-EU nationals has been under consideration for some time (see for example this from 2011) and in January 2016 the Commission proposed the creation of a decentralised system, although this did not meet the approval of the Council or the Parliament.
The new proposal foresees the establishment of a centralised system that will contain fingerprints. The report accompanying the proposal argues that: "there is strong support from the legislators for including fingerprints, even if discussions on the details of the implementation have not yet been finalised." On this point, the Commission argues that "further horrific terrorist attacks in European cities" have led to a change in the "political stance regarding systematic use of fingerprints for secure identification and generally the attitude towards data sharing and security".
The "interoperability" of the database with other EU information systems is also a consideration, as is ease of access for EU agencies:
"creating a centralised system offers the additional advantages of making the ECRIS-TCN system suitable for participating in a future shared biometric matching service and a common identity repository, facilitating direct access for Eurojust, Europol, [and the European Public Prosecutor's Office] and creating a central contact point at Eurojust for third States requiring information on convicted TCN. It also makes it possible to create a system which can be future-proofed for further interoperability with other EU level systems, if so decided by the legislators."
A proposal for direct access to the system for EU agencies is included even though in a January 2017 meeting (see page 16, 8433/17, pdf):
"Member States... stated that they were not in favour of granting direct access to ECRIS-TCN database to national law enforcement authorities nor Europol, while some support for access by Eurojust was voiced."
The main features of the proposed system are, according to the Commission:
- A central ECRIS TCN (third country national) system is put in place under management of eu-LISA;
- Alphanumeric identity information of TCN convicted at national level is stored in the central ECRIS TCN syste;
- Fingerprints of TCN are stored in the central ECRIS TCN system;
- Both alphanumeric and fingerprint data are used for enabling a centralised "hit/not" search;
- A Member State seeking to find the past criminal history of a particular TCN performs a "hit/no hit" search in the central ECRIS TCN system for identifying which other Member State(s) can be queried for information about these past convictions.
Facial images are also proposed for inclusion:
"For the moment, facial images included in the ECRIS-TCN system may only be used for the purpose of verification of identification. In the future, it is not excluded that, following the development of the facial recognition software, the facial images might be used for automated biometric matching, provided that the technical requirements to do so have been met."
This is the same rationale featued in the current proposal for a new Regulation on Eurodac, the database of asylum-seekers' fingerprints that is to be expanded to include facial images and data on irregular migrants.
In the final report (pdf) of the High-Level Expert Group on Interoperability, it was noted that:
"There was a clear interest on future-proofing the system so that it does not create obstacles to interoperability initiatives in the future. One issue for specific consideration in this context is whether ECRIS-TCN should be part of a future shared biometric matching service.
In its upcoming legislative proposal, the Comission should ensure that relevant data under the ECRIS-TCN system can be used in the context of assessing travel authorisation requests of third country nationals."
Both the Fundamental Rights Agency (pdf, December 2015) and the European Data Protection Supervisor (pdf, April 2016) have previously issued opinions on the exchange of non-EU nationals' criminal records.
European Criminal Records Information System for non-EU nationals (pdfs)
Proposal for a regulation on ECRIS for non-EU nationals
Analytical Supporting Document accompanying the proposal
Feasibility study and cost assessment of the establishment of a centralised ECRIS TCN solution (2.2MB)
Feasibility study on the inclusion of pseudonymised fingerprints in ECRIS TCN exchanges (5.8MB)
This proposals replaces one made in January 2016 which was shelved. See: Proposal for a DIRECTIVE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL amending Council Framework Decision 2009/315/JHA, as regards the exchange of information on third country nationals and as regards the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS), and replacing Council Decision 2009/316/JHA (pdf)
See also: press release below.
European Commission DG Justice and Consumers press release: Commission takes steps on interoperability and the efficient exchange of criminal records on non-EU citizens
Today, the European Commission adopted a proposal to upgrade the 'ECRIS' tool to improve further the rules on the exchange of criminal records of non-EU citizens in the EU.
The proposal, which also presents a statistical report on the functioning of the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS), supplements the current ECRIS with a centralised system (ECRIS-TCN). It will allow Member States to efficiently identify which EU countries hold conviction information on non-EU citizens and to share information on previous convictions anywhere in the EU.
The European Commission also adopted a new proposal enlarging the mandate of the European Agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems in the area of freedom, security and justice (eu-LISA). eu-LISA, which currently operates the Schengen Information System (SIS II), the Visa Information System (VIS) and the asylum and irregular migration database Eurodac, will also operate the ECRIS-TCN system.
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