EU aims to link members' police databases

Long arm of the law

The European Union is proposing an ambitious project that will link national police databases in all of its member states in an EU-wide law enforcement information network, as a way for countries to more closely collaborate on anti-terrorism measures and tackle burgeoning cross-border crime.

The project will take advantage of language in the Prüm Treaty, which was signed in 2005 by Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Spain. It established a legal and policy framework for cross-border sharing of police data.

That’s important for an organization such as the EU, which has a raft of regulations that govern areas such as cross-border trade and financial transactions but still must operate under the widely varied legal systems of each member country.

EU home ministers recently began informal discussions about incorporating the treaty into the EU’s legal framework, with a view to the first formal considerations of that move at the meeting of justice and home ministers Feb. 15 and 16.

Europol, the organization that coordinates cross-border policing throughout Europe, has already proposed building an information system that will contain limited data from EU members, non-EU countries and third parties. But that has come under fire because of potential privacy and confidentiality problems.

The information network the EU is proposing would be a virtual data sharing system, in which participants would have access to each other’s databases, but the contents of each database would be held in the respective countries and be subject to those countries’ laws.

The Prüm Treaty has already produced some early examples of how this data sharing would work. Germany and Austria have been checking the contents of each other’s national DNA databases since December 2006, and have already had substantial success in finding matches that were not available in their own databases.

It’s the first time that two European countries have granted each other access to their national databases using this kind of hit/no hit method.

The treaty also allows similar access to vehicle registration and fingerprint databases, data on traveling violent offenders, and information relevant to counterterrorism.

The treaty also provides for better physical cooperation between police forces on such areas as joint patrols and cross-border interventions.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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