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EU wastes no time welcoming prospect of Big Brother databases

  • Justice and Home Affairs database could cover terrorism, organised crime and crime in general
  • Centralised database will cover "new and existing" databases with proposals for biometric matching including facial images ("the biometric of the future") and a "common repository" of personal data on millions of people
  • USA expresses "interest" in EU plan for a single law enforcement database

15.5.17
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On 11 May 2017 the EU's High-Level Expert Group on Information Systems and Interoperability published its final report (pdf). Its principal conclusions call for the creation in the Justice and Home Affairs area of:

"a single-search interface [SSI] to query several information systems simultaneously and to produce combined results on one single screen;

the establishment of a shared biometric matching service and

a common repository of data for different information systems."

The Council is very keen on propogating and implementing the recommendations of the HLEG whose Interim Report in December came to much the same conclusions.

EU-USA meeting

At the meeting of EU-USA Justice and Home Affairs Senior Officials in Valletta on 1-2 March 2017 (LIMITE doc no: 7163/17, pdf) the Council drew attention to:

"Interoperability of information systems and information exchange

The EU delegation informed of the conclusion of the High Level Expert Group expected for May this year. The Group's conclusions should contain important actions and more effective technological solutions for better interoperability solutions across the JHA area. The EU highlighted a number of actions foreseen for the next couple of years: automated screening of data quality, the European search portal, the more systematic use of biometric data for tracking multiple identities, the set up of a common identity repository with alpha-numeric data and the adoption of ETIAS."

It is no wonder that:

"The US delegation expressed interest in receiving regular information on the upcoming developments mentioned by the EU"

On 21 March the Justice and Home Affairs Council added to its minutes a Declaration on Law Enforcement Access to the databases in the area of Justice and Home Affairs (see page 5, pdf):

"The Council calls on the Commission to propose a comprehensive framework for all Member States, with regard to law enforcement access to the different databases in the area of Justice and Home Affairs, with a view to greater simplification, consistency, effectiveness and attention to operational needs, taking into account the current legislative framework and the state of play of the negotiations concerning the relevant databases, as well as the outcome of the work of the High Level Expert Group."

The HLEG's conclusions

The Group proposes establishing a "European search portal" to bring together access to the following existing databases: Schengen Information System (SIS), Visa Information System (VIS) Eurodac, Europol and Interpol and the planned EU Entry-Exit System (EES), European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) and European Criminal Records Information System for Third-Country Nationals (ECRIS-TCN).

Personal data from these databases will be merged through the biometric matching service (potentially to include SIS, VIS, Eurodac, the proposed EES, ETIAS and ECRIS-TCN, "and possibly the Europol data") and a "common identity repository" of individuals' alphanumeric data potentially backing up SIS, EES, VIS, Eurodac, ECRIS-TCN and ETIAS.

Initially it is planned that existing defined rights of access by law enforcement agencies (LEAs) will continue but leaves open the question of future "harmonisation". As the report states:

"If these systems [a single search interface, a biometric matching service and common identity repository] are developed, there will be value in undertaking a comprehensive technical review of the whole data architecture in the area of justice and home affairs."

Recommendations

"The high-level expert group has agreed extensive recommendations based on the productive discussions that took place in its meetings.

As regards the core task of the group to address the legal, technical and operational aspects of four options to achieve interoperability of information systems, the group concludes that it is necessary and technically feasible to work towards the following three instruments for interoperability and that they can, in principle, be established in compliance with data protection requirements: a European search portal, a shared biometric matching service and a common identity repository."

Throughout the report there are conflicting definitions of scope and purposes, with some references to serious organised crime and terrorism and others to "crime and terrorism".

Overall:

"The same approach should be considered for the other systems - present and future - managed by eu-LISA. It can be noted that specific, dedicated data repositories have already been proposed for SIS, EES and ETIAS."

The EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator comments:

"The shared biometric matching services should not only be for fingerprints but also other biometric data such as facial images, which are the biometrics of the future."

The Council springs into action

The very same day the HLEG's Final Report was published the Council Presidency circulated its response in a Discussion paper on interoperability in the light of the recommendations by the High-Level Expert Group on Information Systems and Interoperability (LIMITE doc no: 8797/17, pdf) raising:

"how information systems could be developed in the future to ensure that border guards, customs authorities, police officers and judicial authorities have the necessary information,especially identity information, at their disposal.....

The Council proposes:

"stakeholders should:

(A) work towards creating a European search portal capable of searching in parallel all relevant EU systems;

(B) explore the future implementation of a shared biometric matching service for all types of biometric data including as well as its possible use for the purpose of flagging the existence of biometric data from other systems;

(C) explore the future establishment of a common identity repository of alphanumeric identity data."
[emphasis added]

The Council has set a timetable for a quick response:

"The Commission is expected to express its position in relation to the final report by the High-Level Expert Group in its Seventh Security Union report to the Council and the European Parliament on 16 May 2017, and present it to the COSI on the same day. In order to allow the Member States to also express their position, the Presidency intends to prepare draft Council Conclusions on the way forward to improve information exchange and ensure interoperability of EU information systems to be adopted by the JHA Council on 8-9 June 2017.

In order to prepare the Council Conclusions and the ground for the future work on the subject of interoperability and in the light of the recommendations by the High-Level Expert Group and the position taken by the Commission on the way forward, the Presidency invites COSI, given its central role in relation to the topic of interoperability of EU databases and its impact for increased operational cooperation..." [emphasis added]

And the Council will set up for "EU Agencies in the JHA area a dedicated Council forum."

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