20 August 2019
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As Brexit looms, UK still hopes to join EU fingerprint exchange network
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After a long and rather tortuous process, the UK joined the 'Prüm' network of EU member states' DNA databases in June. Despite the current government's apparent preference for some variety of hard Brexit, the UK is also hoping to connect to other EU member states' fingerprint databases - but first it must pass a data protection and a technical evaluation. Its responses to both questionnaires were submitted to the Council at the end of June for consideration.
The first document contains detailed responses setting out how and why - in the opinion of the UK administration - the UK meets the data protection requirements for joining the Prüm network for cross-border fingerprint searching and exchange. The network also makes possible the exchange of DNA data (the UK joined this element in June) and vehicle registration data.
One requirement is compliance with 'Recommendation No R (87) 15 of 17 September 1987 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe regulating the use of personal data in the police sector'.
The document notes that: "In accordance with Article 10.c of the Rules of Procedure for the meetings of the Ministers Deputies, the Representative of the United Kingdom reserved the right of her Government to comply or not with Principles 2.2 and 2.4 of the Recommendation," and provides detailed explanations of the UK's particular interpretation of these provisions.
The two principles concern the individual's right to be informed of police data-gathering concerning them and the prohibition on: "The collection of data on individuals solely on the basis that they have a particular racial origin, particular religious convictions, sexual behaviour or political opinions or belong to particular movements or organisations which are not proscribed by law."
Regarding the first, the document states:
"The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe accepted that Principle 2.2 may prove difficult to implement where street videos and similar mass surveillance methods are an issue and information has been collected on a great number of persons. It is for this reason that the principle recommends informing those subjected to a secret surveillance that data are still held on them only "where practicable". The police themselves will be expected to take the decision."
Regarding the second:
"Principle 2.4 treats the issue of sensitive data and reflects the concern expressed in Article 6 of the Data Protection Convention that the collection and storage of particular categories of data should be restricted. It may be the case that the collection of certain sensitive data will be necessary for the purposes set out in Principle 2.1. However, in no circumstances should such data be collected simply in order to allow the police to compile a file on certain minority groups whose behavior or conduct is within the law. The collection of such data should only be authorised if "absolutely necessary for the purposes of a particular inquiry". The expression "a particular inquiry" should be seen as a general limitation; such an inquiry should be based on strong grounds for believing that serious criminal offences have been or may be committed. The collection of sensitive data in such circumstances should, moreover, be "absolutely necessary" for the needs of such inquiries.
The reference to sexual behaviour does not apply where an offence has been committed."
The second document is more technical in nature and confirms that the UK complies with the necessary standards to join the network.
UK still shut out of EU-wide crime-fighting database three years after Theresa May vowed to join(The Independent, 21 July 2018, link)
EU: DNA databases keep growing (Statewatch News Online, April 2016)
EU: Schengen stalls, Prüm ploughs on: fingerprint, DNA and vehicle registration data exchange networks continue to expand (Statewatch News Online, April 2013)
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