UK signs deal to share police biometric database with US border guards

Officials could access data to make immigration decisions, European Parliament report suggests

The UK has signed up to a US plan for sharing police-held biometric data about citizens with US border officials.

According to a member of the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), the body met "informally" with representatives of the US Department of Homeland Security this week to discuss the plans.

They come under the auspices of the Enhanced Border Security Partnership (EBSP), which is designed to increase the US Department Of Homeland Security's ability to detect threats through biometric information sharing. Israel signed up to the arrangement in March.

LIBE committee member and Pirate Party MEP Patrick Breyer said that during the meeting last week, the committee discovered that the UK – and three EU member states, though their identities were not revealed – had already signed up to reintroduce US visa requirements which grant access to police biometric databases.

In the UK, the Home Office declined the opportunity to deny it was signing up for the scheme. A spokesperson said: "The UK has a long-standing and close partnership with the USA which includes sharing data for specific purposes. We are in regular discussion with them on new proposals or initiatives to improve public safety and enable legitimate travel."

Under UK law the police can retain an individual's DNA profile and fingerprint record for up to three years from the date the samples were taken, even if the individual was arrested but not charged, provided the Biometrics Commissioner agrees. Police can also apply for a two-year extension. The same applies to those charged, but not convicted.

According to reports, the US Enhanced Border Security Partnership (EBSP) initiative will be voluntary initially but is set to become mandatory under the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which allows visa-free entry into the United States for up to 90 days, by 2027.

MEP Breyer said that when asked exactly what data the US wanted to tap into, the answer was as much as possible. When asked what would happen at US borders if a traveler was known to the police in participating states, it was said that this would be decided by the US immigration officer on a case-by-case basis.

The Homeland Security program is part of a project to update the visa waiver scheme under which EU members and other European countries enjoy visa-free travel to the US under certain conditions.

Breyer noted: "I expect the EU Commission and also the German government to reject the demand of the US authorities and not allow themselves to be blackmailed.

"If necessary, the visa waiver program must be terminated by Europe as well. Millions of innocent Europeans are listed in police databases and could be exposed to completely disproportionate reactions in the USA.

"The US lacks adequate data and fundamental rights protection. Providing personal data to the US exposes our citizens… to the risk of arbitrary detention and false suspicion, with possible dire consequences, in the course of the US 'war on terror'. We must protect our citizens from these practices," Breyer said.

The Register has asked the Dept of Homeland Security for comment. ®

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