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EU justice ministers agree on police data-sharing law

But directive still needs Euro Parl approval - get the popcorn

European justice ministers on Friday reached an agreement on a new EU law governing how police agencies share information.

The Data Protection Directive is supposed to protect personal data that is processed for “the prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of criminal offences or the safeguarding against and the prevention of threats to public security”.

Just like its brother the Data Protection Regulation, which applies to businesses, the Directive seeks to ensure that data processing by police falls within the bounds of necessity, proportionality and legality, and will be enforced by national data protection authorities.

Police and criminal justice authorities will no longer have to apply different sets of data protection rules according to the origin of the personal data as the rules will apply to both domestic processing and cross-border transfers of personal data. The law will also establish general principles for the transfer of data to authorities outside the EU.

But not everyone is convinced. European Parliament’s Mr Privacy, Jan Philipp Albrecht, said the draft of the law put forward by the ministers is vague and would deliver “almost no improvements on the current legal situation”.

'It is totally unacceptable that the proposals on the table fail to differentiate between suspects, witnesses, guilty parties and victims.' - Jan Philipp Albrecht

His main concern is the number of exemptions on citizens’ rights to information. “Worryingly, police and justice authorities would not have to specify if they reduce these rights even further,” said the German MEP.

“It is totally unacceptable that the proposals on the table fail to differentiate between suspects, witnesses, guilty parties and victims as regards the protection of their fundamental rights, with regard to the proportionality of privacy infringements,” he continued.

“The purpose behind this reform, namely that a better harmonisation would strengthen citizens' rights, is being completely lost. Without cross-border data protection standards, it is unacceptable that there can be greater cooperation and information exchange between police authorities. The position of EU governments on this directive is clearly at odds with many elements of the position voted by the European Parliament,” said Albrecht.

Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová was more optimistic: “The right to personal data protection is a fundamental right in the EU. Victims and witnesses, but also suspects of crimes have the right to have their data duly protected in the context of a criminal investigation or a law enforcement action. The common rules and principles agreed upon will ensure that.”

The Commish may be on the same page as ministers, but the law will not be passed without the approval of the Parliament. Three-way discussions will begin later this month. ®

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