EU agrees on data sharing

London, June 13:

A battery of police data-sharing and electronic surveillance measures to tackle trans-national crime and immigration issues was agreed by governments in Europe, 15 of which also gave the green light to a scheme for the world’s biggest biometric system.

The system will store and allow sharing of data such as the photographs and fingerprints of up to 70 million non-EU citizens applying for visas to enter European Union countries.

Interior ministers from all 27 EU countries also agreed on automatic access to genetic information, fingerprints, and car registration details in police databases across the union.

The accord, set in Luxembourg and propelling a 2005 treaty into EU law, means police forces in one country will be able to enter the DNA details of a suspect in a European database, then obtain police information from another country if the DNA record hits a match elsewhere.

Germany, which has been driving the data-sharing campaign for the past six months, hailed the accord as “an important day for Europe”.

Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German interior minister, said the pact was an “important element of a European information network”.

The Germans and Austrians, who have been sharing DNA information oncriminal suspects since December, are already claiming successes.

According to the Austrian police the scheme led to the identification of a double-murder suspect: the arrest of a suspected burglar in Vienna in March, involving his genetic code being fed into the database, led to the discovery that the man was wanted over the murder of two people in Tenerife two years ago.

Britain, traditionally a jealous guardian of its sovereignty on police and judicial policy areas in the EU, welcomed the accord, after diluting some provisions for police cooperation earlier this year.

“Criminals do not respect borders,” said Joan Ryan, UK Home Office minister.

“It is vitally important that our law enforcement authorities have the tools available to obtain information held by other EU countries as quickly as possible.”

Criticism of the measures from civil liberties groups has been muted.

But UK Conservatives criticised the data-sharing pact.