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EU competition office criticizes police data-sharing plan

The European Union's data protection competition office has criticized plans to introduce a bloc-wide system of sharing police data, warning the public would have insufficient protection.

European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) Peter Hustinx said he regretted that the proposal, endorsed by EU justice and interior ministers in principle in February, did not specify who would be included in shared DNA databases and voiced concern over protection of the public. A general framework for data protection „unfortunately has still not been adopted,” Hustinx said. „That framework is needed to give the citizen enough protection, since this decision will make it much easier to exchange DNA and fingerprint data,” he said. Under the scheme, a police cooperation deal so far signed by Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Spain, would be extended to all member states.

Entitled the Treaty of Prum, after the western German town where it was signed in 2005, the scheme allows participating nations mutual and automatic access to DNA and fingerprint records, as well as car registration information. The data protection competition office wants the agreement to specify „the categories of persons that will be included in the DNA databases” and to limit the period for retaining information. The office also „regrets that it does not harmonize essential elements of the collection and exchange of data.” Hustinx said that his office's suggestions - given to EU governments in the form of a report - „mainly serve to improve the text without modifying the system of information exchange itself.” Clarifications will ensure a harmonized implementation into national law and guarantee citizens' rights as much as possible,” he added. He also said that the initiative had been launched without any impact assessment. In 2005 the European Commission put forward a similar EU policing recommendation but failed to gain agreement from all member states.

Germany, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, has said it hopes to have an agreement by all 27 EU member states on the plan by the end of June. Last week, during a meeting of interior and justice ministers of the European Union and the United States in Berlin to discuss countering terrorism, data protection and visa issues, German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries called for information to be shared and for cooperation in law enforcement, while civil liberties also should be protected.

European Commissioner for Justice and Security Franco Frattini took it one step further and said transatlantic security cooperation was strong in the areas of justice, freedom and security. Our common goals are clear: to protect our citizens' security by making sure law enforcement authorities have the right information they need to do their work and at the same time protect our citizens' fundamental rights,' Frattini said. With regard to sharing air passenger data with the United States, Frattini said last week that the EU executive was seeking binding commitments by Washington on how data was handled, and that an EU-US agreement would also guarantee that rules were the same in all 27 EU states. (