EU: European police to gain access to visa database

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26.04.2013 - Europol and national law enforcement authorities look likely to obtain access to asylum seekers' and irregular migrants' fingerprints held in the Eurodac database, following approval from the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee. Meanwhile, the Council is also looking to give effect to powers that provide access to the Visa Information System (VIS) for Europol and national law enforcement authorities.

On 26 March, a letter from the Commission informed the Council that the VIS Regulation (767/2008) has "entered into force and is fully applicable." The Council's Law Enforcement Working Party will now begin drafting a Decision that will give effect to a piece of 2008 legislation allowing Europol and certain national authorities access to the VIS for the "prevention, detection and investigation of terrorist offences and of other serious criminal offences." [1]

What qualifies as a terrorist offence is outlined in Council Framework Decision 2002/475/JHA, while serious criminal offences are listed in Article 2(2) of the Council Framework Decision 2002/584/JHA on the European Arrest Warrant.

When the Decision drafted by the Law Enforcement Working Party enters into force, Europol and dozens of state agencies across Europe [2] will be able to request access to numerous types of data contained within the VIS:

- Surname, surname at birth (former surname(s)); first name(s); sex; date, place and country of birth;
- Current nationality and nationality at birth;
- Type and number of the travel document, the authority which issued it and the date of issue and of expiry;
- Main destination and duration of the intended stay;
- Purpose of travel;
- Intended date of arrival and departure;
- Intended border of first entry or transit route;
- Residence;
- Fingerprints;
- Type of visa and the number of the visa sticker;
- Details of the person issuing an invitation and/or liable to pay the applicant's subsistence costs during the stay;
- Photographs;
- Any other data taken from the application form;
- The data entered in respect of any visa issued, refused, annulled, revoked or extended.

Access to the data will be subject to a number of conditions: it must be necessary for the prevention, detection or investigation of terrorist offences or other serious criminal offence; necessary in a specific case; and there must be reasonable grounds to consider that consultation of data in the VIS will "substantially contribute to the prevention, detection or investigation of any of the criminal offences in question."

Applicants for EU visas in five of eleven "regions" of the world are now obliged to submit personal data to be stored in the VIS. The system began operating in North Africa in September 2011; the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iran and the Arabian Gulf in October 2012; and a significant number of sub-Saharan Africa countries in March this year.

The sixth and seventh regions are also made up largely of sub-Saharan African states; the eight covers Latin America; the ninth Central Asia; the tenth east Asia, and the eleventh the Occupied Palestinian Territory. [3]

Europe's law enforcement databases are developing swiftly. The move to give police forces across Europe across to the VIS - which can hold up to 70 million records - coincides not just with the agreement between the Parliament and the Council on law enforcement access to the Eurodac database, but also with the launch of the Schengen Information System II, which became fully operational at the beginning of April.

Further reading
- MEPs back deal with Council on police access to asylum seekers’ fingerprints, European Parliament press release, 24 April 2013
- Collection of personal data for the EU's Visa Information System spreads further across the globe, Statewatch News Online, October 2012
- Small steps to big brother: the development of the Visa Information System and the Schengen Information System II is back on track, Statewatch News Online, August 2011
- Schengen Information System (SIS II) goes live, European Commission press release, 9 April 2013
- From the Schengen Information System to SIS II and the Visa Information System (VIS): the proposals explained, Statewatch Analysis, May 2005

[1] Working Group on Information Exchange and Data Protection (DAPIX), Outcome of Proceedings, 11 April 2013; Council Decision 2008/633/JHA of 23 June 2008 concerning access for consultation of the Visa Information System (VIS) by designated authorities of Member States and by Europol for the purposes of the prevention, detection and investigation of terrorist offences and of other serious criminal offences
[2] List of competent authorities the duly authorised staff of which shall have access to enter, amend, delete or consult data in the Visa Information System (VIS) (2012/C 79/05)
[3] Commission Implementing Decision of 24 April 2012 determining the second set of regions for the start of operations of the Visa Information System

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