21st Jul 2019

EU agrees personal data exchange with US

  • COLN POWELL - US secretary of state, acknowledged the role that the September 11 terrorist attacks played in pushing the agreement forward. (Photo: European Commission)

EU justice ministers agreed on Thursday to an exchange of personal data with the United States. In a major overhaul of the 1995 Convention governing the European Police Office (Europol), there will be a huge increase in the exchange of personal data across the Atlantic.

The agreement, which will be signed by the EU and the US in Copenhagen on Friday, foresees more co-operation between the EU member states and the US in "preventing, detecting, suppressing, and investigating criminal offences within the respective jurisdiction of the Parties, in particular by facilitating the reciprocal exchange of information, including personal data."

Data protection

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Danish minister for justice, Lene Espersen, denied that data protection laws could be violated with the agreement. "Data protection is not something for discussion," said Ms Espersen. While arguing that the agreement will "respect" relevant rules on data protection, she was unable to say which or how many US bodies the personal data could be passed on to.

Colin Powell, US secretary of state, acknowledged the role that the September 11 terrorist attacks played in pushing the agreement forward. "Counter-terrorism has been firmly on the US-EU agenda since 9/11" said Mr Powell who added that the agreement "will authorise the full exchange of information between Europol and US law enforcement agencies." The agreement will go into force directly after it has been signed.

Europol's mandate extended

EU justice ministers also agreed to extend the mandate of Europol and increase its operational powers. The agreed protocol states that it should be involved in "preventing and combating serious international crime" that has an "organised criminal structure" and involves two or more member states. It also involves national police more and allows for greater parliamentary scrutiny at the national level. There had been much criticism that the organisation was too opaque.

Although member states have agreed the protocol, there is some way still to go. Justice and home affairs commissioner, Antonio Vitorino acknowledged this. While being "happy" that the protocol was adopted, he was "concerned" it would have to be ratified by all 15 national parliaments. He added that "pressure on the member states" would have to be kept up so that it would soon be adopted.

Controversial death penalty

No agreement was reached on the controversial issue of extradition and exchange of information between the EU and the US on suspected terrorists if there is a threat of the death penalty. The Danish presidency presented a compromise proposal to member states on Wednesday. "Colleagues need to go back and study the draft agreements in detail," said the Danish justice minister but she said the proposals would mean there would be no "extradition in cases where the death penalty will apply."

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