EU: Member State concerns arise over the development of the European Police Records Index System (EPRIS)

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- Sweden criticises Commission's lack of transparency
- Member States raise concern over the potential for an "EU police database"

The European Police Records Index System, or EPRIS, is intended to be:

"A system which gives Member States law enforcement authorities a quick overview of whether and possibly where relevant police information on a certain person can be found. It was stated that this would facilitate requesting detailed information and complement Council Framework Decision 2006/960/JHA in particular, making it easier to detect cross-border connections and identify structures of international organized crime or terrorist networks. Secondly, the information gained in this way would significantly help in protecting the police officers assigned to the case." [1]

It is thus an attempt to simplify the exchange of information (hard, factual) and "intelligence" (hard and "soft") of the sort recognised in Framework Decision 2006/960/JHA the 'Swedish Framework Decision'. Other systems being developed that bear a resemblance to the EPRIS are the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS) (which is intended to simply the exchange of information contained in individuals' criminal records), and the Information Exchange Platform for Law Enforcement Authorities (IXP) (which aims to centralise access points to the many differing EU law enforcement information exchange tools).

The mandate for the EPRIS stems from the Stockholm Programme. The Action Plan implementing the Stockholm Programme contains a provision for the Commission to issue a "communication on the feasibility of setting up a EU Police Records Index System (EPRIS)" by 2012. [2] The Commission's own study confirmed the necessity of an EU-wide index of police records (something of a fait accompli considering its inclusion in the Stockholm Programme), following which it was decided that a tender should be issued for a private contractor to undertake the feasibility study itself. However, it seems that some Member States have adopted a somewhat critical stance to the way in which the Commission has gone about the process.

Tendering and transparency

The EPRIS was placed on the agenda of a recent meeting of the Working Group on Information Exchange and Data Protection (DAPIX) by the Swedish delegation, "for the sake of transparency". There appears to have been some fairly blunt criticism of the process by which the Commission undertook its own study - Sweden "criticised the non-existence of any conclusing document subsequent to the pre-study on behalf of the Commission". [3] This findings that confirmed the need for a pre-study were based on questionnaires sent to Member States. However, the answers to these questionnaires seem to have been kept secret. Now that the Commission is proposing to distribute the results of the questionnaires to potential contractors undertaking the feasibility study, Sweden has kicked up a fuss and demanded that the questionnaires "be shared among delegations prior to their disclosure to potential tenderers". Going even further, the delegate "questioned the conclusions drawn by the Commission since the sample was rather limited and the need for EPRIS could have been interpreted in a quite opposite way". That is, such a system may not be necessary at all, but the Commission has decided that it is, without real discussion or debate amongst Member State delegations.

This point is particularly pertinent considering that the proposed function of the EPRIS has already shifted somewhat. What was originally proposed was an index system, where a search for information on a certain person held by a Member State police force would indicate whether information was held or not. However, the contractor who will be awarded the feasibility study will be responsible for examining ways to "enhance efficiency in cross-border exchange of police records" [4] - something quite different to working out how to set up a system indicating whether particular information exists or not.

The danger of a database

Perhaps more worrying is the concern over the Commission's approach to the EPRIS that came from other delegations. It was noted that a number of parties were "critical about details of the study concept since they were afraid that a police data base might be set up instead of an record index" [sic]. In response, the Commission "denied that a EU police database was envisaged and pledged to involve Member States in the development of the project". The only way to tell if such a pledge means anything will be to examine future developments. However, the Presidency's response to the concerns was even more half-hearted, stating that "DAPIX would be kept informed of the state of play and [the Presidency] envisaged to examine whether the terms of reference [of the feasibility study contract] could be conveyed to the Council". The potential for greater involvement by Member States in the development of the project therefore seems somewhat limited. The Commission has declared that the feasibility study is likely to be finalised in "about ten months", by which time it may be clearer what form it will take. However the final system is intended to work, the EPRIS will - like many other systems in place and under development - contribute to "state-building" in the EU by incorporating yet more automated access to law enforcement agencies data (information and intelligence).

[1] Council of the European Union, European Police Records Index System elements for a pre-study, 15526/2/09, 21/12/2009, p.1
[2] European Commission, Action Plan Implementing the Stockholm Programme, COM(2010) 171, 2010, p.31
[3] Council of the European Union, Meeting of the Working Group on Information Exchange and Data Protection (DAPIX), Summary of discussions, 10606/11, 27/05/2011, p.5
[4] Council of the European Union, Summary of Discussions of Ad hoc Group on Information Exchange, 11536/10, 02/07/2010, p.6

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