22nd Mar 2018

Police set to gain access to EU asylum data

  • MEPs in the committee on justice and home affairs voted in favour to allow police to probe the EU's asylum database (Photo: EU's attempts)

Euro-deputies in the justice and homes affairs committee voted on Monday (17 December) to support draft legislation that would allow law enforcement authorities access to a finger print database on asylum seekers.

The biometric ID system, known as Eurodac, was created to prevent people from making multiple asylum requests in member states.

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The European Commission over the summer proposed to amend Eurodac to allow police, as well as the EU-policy body Europol, to search and query the database.

But giving police access has generated controversy among human rights organisations, the Brussels-based European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) and some MEPs.

“This is an important step in the wrong direction,” German green MEP Ska Keller, one of three MEPs who opposed opening up the database, told this website.

Among the concerns are privacy rights and the risk of stigmatising asylum seekers as criminals.

Anyone who requests asylum, including minors, has their information stored on the database for at least 10 years. Some 300,000 applied for asylum in the EU last year alone.

The database also stores details on irregular migrants for up to two years. None of them have access to their files.

Under the new changes, police would be able to cross check their fingerprints on the database with those stored in other national IT repositories to identify potential suspects in criminal investigations.

MEPs tabled a number of amendments to restrict the access, including a judicial review, but human rights lawyers say the development is a of form of "function creep."

“It conflicts with the original purpose of this database,” says Dr Maarten den Heijer, a member of the Meijers Committee, an independent experts' group on human rights based in the Netherlands.

For his part, the EDPS has questioned if law enforcement access is necessary in the first place and has said the commission has not demonstrated any substantive reason why accessing data on asylum seekers is needed.

The EU data protection agency points out that legal instruments already exist which allow law authorities to consult member states' fingerprint databases.

But the Brussels-executive says a number significant safeguards and limitations on the database would prevent police abuse.

“It will only be possible to make searches on a hit-/no hit basis and a Eurodac check can only be made if prior searches in national or member states' databases do not yield results,” said European home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmström in May when the proposal was tabled.

The new proposals will next go into so-called trialogue negotiations between the member states, the commission, and the European Parliament before they goes up for debate in plenary early next year.


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