European Commission proposes "free market" for law enforcement database access

At the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 19 July 2004 in Brussels Commissioner Vittorino drew attention to the European Commission Communication titled: "Towards enhancing access to information by law enforcement agencies" (COM (2004) 429/4). This proposes that all law enforcement agencies (police, customs, immigration) should have access to each others databases right across the 25 EU states and even non-EU states.

Where at the moment there are strict rules on cross-border access data - for example in the Schengen Information System (SIS), that immigration data can be accessed by immigration and border officials and police data by police officers - these would disappear under this proposal.

The Communication's argument is as simplistic and illogical as another recent Communication on exchanging information on terrorist investigations: Is the EU trying to combat terrorism or crime? Analysis - which drew the comment from a UK parliamentary committee that the supposed link between terrorism and organised crime is based: "more on assertion than on evidence".

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:

"This is yet another badly argued Communication from the Commission which would be better called: Towards enhancing surveillance by law enforcement agencies.

There is a big difference between exchanging specific data based on a targeted inquiry and allowing unlimited and uncontrollable access to all the data held on national databases by every other agency in the EU. Requests for data and information can already be routed through the Schengen Information System and national SIRENE bureaux and Europol, and spontaneous requests can be carried out under the Mutual Assistance Convention. If there is a specific needs - for murder inquiries or searches for suspected paedophiles - this should be the task of Europol.

To put forward such a proposal without any indication of data protection rights for suspects or those simply held on "intelligence" files is quite irresponsible but not surprising - we have been waiting since 1998 for the Council or the Commission to come up with data protection rights under the "third pillar"".

The proposal - the free movement of data

The long title of the Communication is:

"Towards enhancing access to information by law enforcement agencies (EU Information Policy)"

The cited remit comes from the special EU Summit "Declaration on terrorism" adopted in the aftermath of the bombings in Madrid on 11 March 2004 that called for: "simplifying the exchange of information and intelligence between law enforcement authorities of the Member States". It was one of the many proposals that the "Statewatch Scoreboard" found had little or nothing to do with combating terrorism (see: Scoreboard).

The objective of "simplifying the exchange of information and intelligence" can be interpreted in many ways. The Communication sees it as:

"achieving free circulation of information between law enforcement authorities... [and overcoming] the legal, technical and practical problems hindering exchange between Member States" (emphasis added)

The Commission is proposing "a full stock-taking exercise" with a:

"broad and open consultation with all interested stakeholders, namely the European Data Protection Supervisor"

The European Data Protection Supervisor may well be a worthy person but certainly he does not represent "all the interested stakeholders".

Furthermore, it is claimed that "major threats, like terrorism" will be "avoided" by introducing "intelligence-led law enforcement (a concept already in place in most national police forces), which, in turn, will apparently allow the EU to assume an "internat


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