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Police will share data across Europe

Against privacy chief's advice

The new rules will open up police databases but not fully, said the Home Office spokeswoman. "The primary aspects of this are data sharing on fingerprints, DNA samples and vehicle registrations," she said. "We already share all of that under mutual legal assistance agreements, that means people can make a request to see if there is matching data, then if there is can request access to that data.

"What will happen now is that countries will have the ability automatically to determine immediately whether a member state holds matching DNA or fingerprint information, but they won't have automatic access to the databases or the information itself," she said.

The European Council spokesman said that the agreement was identical to the Prüm Treaty except that it omitted the right for police forces in "hot pursuit" of suspects to cross borders.

The Home Office has disputed this interpretation. "As well as the pursuit part, we have limited the use of vehicle registration data for serious crime only," said the Home Office spokeswoman. "Only the third pillar [i.e. police and judicial co-operation] elements been transposed."

The EDPS has in the past warned that no agreements on data sharing in police matters should be signed until there is an over-arching framework of data protection in place first.

He said that this deal was signed in the absence of those protections. "I can once again note that an instrument facilitating exchange of personal data has been adopted without the necessary framework for third pillar data protection being in place. I very much regret that," said Hustinx.

"I read that the Council has failed to agree on a framework decision that provides a high level of data protection for law enforcement purposes throughout Europe. This is particularly worrying as that decision should be considered as the ground on which the specific data protection provisions of the Prüm treaty rely, both in terms of substance and for minimum harmonisation of national law," said Hustinx.

Dr Chris Pounder, a privacy expert at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, said that the agreement had been opposed in parliament in the UK.

"Last week a report from the Home Affairs Select Committee noted that it had serious concerns as to whether the data protection provisions in the Prüm Treaty were adequate," he said. "It recommended that the Government seek urgent agreement on a comprehensive EU-wide data protection framework in the law enforcement sector. This was followed by a House of Lords Committee which said that the European Parliament does not have a legislative role to play in these kinds of agreements."

"The worry is that if the European Data Protection Supervisor's views has been sidelined again, as he suggests, there is going to be very little attention given to privacy matters that have been raised by him," said Pounder. "Despite the reassuring words in the Commission's press-statement, this would be further evidence that in the privacy versus security debate, privacy is becoming subservient to security."

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OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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