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Commission wants a quick march to interoperable, centralised EU databases by 2020
17.5.17
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In its latest report on the 'Security Union', the European Commission has called on the Council and the European Parliament to ensure that current proposals on police and border control databases are agreed swiftly, and has announced its intention to publish a host of new legal proposals - including one on the "interoperability" of EU databases and information systems "as soon as possible" to ensure 'one-click' searches of multiple systems, the establishment of a "shared biometric matching service to enable searches across different databases holding biometric data", and a "common identity repository" of alphanumeric identity data.

See: European Commission, Seventh progress report on an effective and genuine Security Union (COM(2017) 261 final, 16 May 2017, pdf)

The plans reflect the recommendations made by the High-Level Expert Group on Information Systems and Interoperability (HLEG), whose final report (pdf) was issued last week (swiftly followed by a Council discussion paper, pdf). The Commission's report states that:

"The key objective is to ensure that border guards, law enforcement officers, immigration officials and judicial authorities have the necessary information at their disposal to better protect the external borders and enhance internal security for the benefit of all citizens."

The proposed approach:

"must ensure that the systems keep their specific data protection provisions, [emphasis in original] with specific rules on access for competent authorities, seperate purpose limitation rules for each category of data and dedicated data retention rules. This approach on interoperability would not lead to the interconnectivity of all the individual systems."

Nevertheless, it would seem that this further develops the tendency to gather more information and to make it more readily available, and as the HLEG noted in its final report:

"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."

See: EU wastes no time welcoming prospect of Big Brother databases (Statewatch News Online, 15 May 2017)

Furthermore, the sense of urgency in the Commission's report should give pause for thought. As has been pointed out by the UK's House of Lords, there are "a number of practical issues and problems that arise when primary legislation is fast-tracked". See: Problems and issues concerning fast-track primary legislation (www.parliament.uk, link)

The Commission's report covers a host of current and future legislative proposals and other ongoing projects; the content is summarised below.

Contents

I. Introduction

II. Stronger and smarter information systems

1. The Commission's Communication of April 2016 and steps taken so far

Notes the Commission's April 2016 Communication and current legislative proposals on the Schengen Information System, Eurodac, the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS), the Entry/Exit System (EES) and the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), as well as forthcoming proposals (foreseen for June) on developing ECRIS to cover third-country nationals and to strengthen the EU Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems (eu-LISA).

2. Progress on priority files on information systems

"It is... essential that that European Parliament and the Council move forward on the priority proposals on information systems," namely the EES (currently in secret "trilogue" discussions between Council and Parliament foreseen for completion in June), ETIAS (still in technical discussions), the SIS and Eurodac.

3. The work of the High-Level Group on Information Systems and Interoperability

Endorses the work of the HLEG and notes the need for full implementation of the Prüm system (exchange of fingeprints, DNA, vehicle registration data) and, in relation to the implementation of the Passenger Name Record (PNR) Directive on air travel surveillance, the possibility of establishing "a centralised component for advance passenger information and passenger name record data". Notes the possibility of establishing "a centralised EU repository containing information on long-stay visas, residence permits and residence cards," and the need to explore "the technical, operational and legal aspects of interoperability with customs systems."

III. Towards the interoperability of information systems

1. The Commission's objective for the interoperability of information systems by 2020

Expands further on how the proposals on interoperability are to be achieved.

2. The way forward to achieve the interoperability of information systems by 2020

"In parallel to the work on the delivery of the priority files on information systems, the Commission invites the European Parliament and the Council to hold a joint discussion on the way forward on interoperability as set out in this Communication... the Commission will present and discuss these ideas with the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on 29 May 2017 and with the Member States at the 8 June 2017 Justice and Home Affairs Council. Building on those discussions, the three institutions should hold tripartite technical level meetings in autumn 2017 further to discuss the way forward on interoperability... including the operational needs for borders and security and how to ensure proportionality and full compliance with fundamental rights. The goal is to reach as soon as possible, and at the latest before the end of 2017, a common understanding on the way forward..."

It seems the political discussions are foreseen to become "technical level meetings" rather swiftly.

IV. Implementation of other priority files on security

1. Legislative initiatives

Notes the new Europol Regulation entering into force on 1 May 2017, operational cooperation agreement betwen Denmark and Europol, a Commission implementing decision on harmonised technical standards for the transmission of PNR data to national law enforcement 'Passenger Information Units' (PIUs), the adoption in late April of the new Firearms Directive.

2. Implementation of non-legislative activities

Review of the EU Cybersecurity Strategy will be accelerated, the Commission plans to strengthen the mandate of the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA), on 12 May the Commission adopted a recently-proposed Recommendation on "proportionate police checks and police cooperation in the Schengen area" (pdf), which calls for "intensified police checks" and also suggests intesifying automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) on "the main European transport corridors", talks with the USA on aviation security are planned, priorities for the EU Policy Cycle on Serious and Organised Crime are due to be adopted by the Council on 18 May, efforts are ongoing to find a way forward on "electronic evidence" (which includes law enforcement concerns over encryption and investigations in "cyberspace"), discussions with the Ukraine and Tunisia on firearms trafficking, movement towards new priorities on external counter-terrorism action and cooperation with non-EU states on critical infrastructure protection.

V. Conclusion

Background

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