28 March 2012
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European police to gain access to visa database
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." 
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  will be able to request access to numerous types of data contained within the VIS:
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. 
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.
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