Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The database state slowly creeps

From today's EU Politix morning briefing:

"[Justice and Security Commissioner Franco] Frattini proposes a decision for the council of EU governments on the exchange of data held on Europe’s Visa Information System.

"National police forces, Europol and other 'authorities of member states responsible for internal security’ will be able to access the data collected by visa issuing agencies across Europe.

"Alongside this proposal, Frattini sets out some ideas to boost the effectiveness, exchange and ‘interoperability’ of various EU crime related databases.

"Some of his ideas – for EU-wide access to identity registries or DNA databases – will alarm some MEPs, civil liberties and privacy campaigners."
"Alarm"? Too bloody right.

The really odd thing is that these proposals (and that is all they are at this stage - they haven't even been adopted by the Commission yet) come just a couple of days after the EU advocate-general declaring transfer of airline passenger information between the EU and US to be illegal:
"Philippe Léger, the Advocate-General of the European Court of Justice, the EU’s supreme court, called for the annulment of an agreement requiring EU airlines to give US authorities access to a wide range of confidential data on passengers before they travel."
Which earns M. Léger a place in my little book of heroes.

Sadly, however, it is Léger's opinion which is getting all the press - not the Commission meeting today at which even more invasive EU-wide data transferrals are going to be proposed.

The big fear is not necessarily that such data transferral would be misused (it's certainly not as obviously invasive of privacy as the earlier data retention proposals, and is arguably essential in some form if trans-EU counter-terrorism operations and policing are ever going to work), but - once again - what it could be used as an excuse for.

Such a decision by the EU can only help Blair's case for UK ID cards and the UK central database. After all, if all 25 EU member states are swapping information with each other all the time, there will soon emerge a need for some kind of standardisation of the information held on member states' citizens. Standardisation - in the UK's case at least - will mean the state having to hold more data about its citizens to get up to the level of those EU members which already have ID cards and the like.

It might be time to think about contacting your local MEPs (click on your country, then region - pretty much every MEP will have emails, phone numbers, addresses and faxes listed).

Update: Sorry, forgot to mention. Yes, yes this was all an initiative of Blair's EU presidency - as covered by me before, they're trying to use the EU to bypass the British parliament on this one - something we might see more of now Tony's suffered his first Commons defeat...

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