Informal Justice and Home Affairs Council, the Hague, Netherlands

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The Dutch Presidency of the Council of the European Union says that the Informal Justice and Home Affairs Council in the Hague (30 September and 1 October 2004) will be "entirely devoted to the multi-annual programme for the area of freedom, security and justice, in preparation for the European Council meeting of 5 November" (this Council meeting will be adopting the "Tampere II" programme). The EU Presidency has presented a Memorandum (Dutch Presidency: Memorandum) and prepared a series of documents for the meeting.

The issues under discussion are:

Exchange of information

"Law enforcement agencies in the Member States must not encounter unnecessary obstacles to the exchange of information within the area of freedom, security and justice. Citizens retain the right to protection against abuses and incorrect information." (Presidency Memorandum)

i) Note from Presidency: Exchange of Information, 12680/04 (pdf)

ii) Comment: Proposal stemming from European Commission Communication (see below) for unfettered access by all law enforcement agencies (police, customs, immigration) to each other's databases. The Presidency says that:

"a law enforcement officer in one Member State who needs information in order to perform his duties can obtain this from another Member State without any problem, and that the law enforcement agency in the other Member State which holds this information is obliged to make it available for the stated purpose"

There is no mention of how this exchange of information is to be regulated or controlled. The Presidency also says that: "priority must be given to granting mutual access to national databases".

There is the usual caveat that: "citizens be protected against abuses and incorrect information". How is this to be guaranteed? Most citizens do not know what information is held on them and there is no data protection law covering law enforcement agencies.

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, commented on the Commission Communication that:

"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.

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"".

See: European Commission proposes "free market" for law enforcement database access and
Statewatch "Scoreboard" and analysis on EU proposals have little or nothing to do with tackling terrorism: Statewatch Scoreboard (pdf)

The fight against terrorism

"Within the area of freedom, security and justice, the efforts of the Member States must be directed towards not only their own security, but also that of the Union as a whole". (Presidency Memorandum)

i) Note from Presidency: Fight against terrorism, 12685/04 (pdf)

ii) Comment: Of interest is the proposal that assessments and reports compiled by SITCEN (EU Situation Centre - part of the emerging military structure) and Europol to the JHA Council should cover terrorism and internal security. Reports w

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