British Police Open Up DNA Database to Europe

by jeeg 20. November 2014 01:19


Britain is to share its DNA data with European police forces next year in a move that threatens to reignite concerns of eurosceptics over EU justice and policing measures.

The compromise agreement brokered in Brussels covers a European data co-operation scheme that Britain is formally leaving and is not part of the EU police and justice measures the House of Commons voted on Monday to rejoin.

Britain’s concession involves providing limited access to the UK’s DNA database, primarily to overcome Spain’s objections to its withdrawal from various EU police schemes, according to several diplomats.

The deal comes amid a torrid week for Theresa May, home secretary, whose reputation has suffered from Monday’s chaotic vote on the EU policing measures. Dominic Raab, a Tory MP who opposes the opt-ins, said the deal “just strengthens the fear that there’s no such thing as a ‘UK opt out’ from the Brussels bandwagon”.

Under the draft terms, outlined in a secret memorandum, Britain agreed to handle up to 3,000 tests on its DNA database from other EU police forces next year, and will run samples from up to 10,000 unsolved crimes in the UK against databases in other EU countries.

Britain decided to opt out of scores of EU justice schemes earlier this autumn, including so-called “Prűm Decisions”, which help police to check DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration data in other EU countries.

Ms May decided to opt back into 35 schemes but said she had “successfully resisted rejoining” Prűm. Instead she agreed to run “a small-scale pilot” to inform a report weighing the benefits of opting in at a later point. Ms May will publish the study next September and must decide whether to rejoin by the end of 2015.

Britain originally refused to include any tests on the UK database in its pilot and wanted the study to only involve running unsolved British crimes against DNA data in other EU countries.

It was forced to broaden the scope and permit access to the UK database because Spain objected to Britain abandoning the information exchange schemes and threatened to use its veto on the entire UK opt-in package.

While Madrid argued it was resisting because the schemes were vital to tackling serious crime and terrorism, some EU diplomats claimed the foot-dragging was mainly motivated by Anglo-Spanish tensions over Gibraltar.

Such cross-border collaboration to tackle serious crime is backed by most Tory MPs and the Labour party. But the Anglo-Spanish deal will anger some hardline eurosceptic MPs, who fear the system for sharing DNA is flawed, triggers too many false positives and poses a risk to innocent British citizens.

Mr Raab said: “Having stayed out of the Prűm data-sharing regime, it now transpires officials have concocted a skewed pilot that will magnify the law enforcement benefits but mask the threat to the privacy of British citizens, presumably to pave the way for a later opt in.”

The Home Office said the pilot “will include a very small subset of the UK database. Profiles will be anonymised and only relate to people convicted of serious sexual, violent or terrorist offences.

“It builds on current Interpol arrangements to use DNA profiles to solve crimes committed overseas. Stringent privacy safeguards are in place whenever UK authorities receive a request to search records and that will not change.”

Alex Barker, Financial Times



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