EU law enforcement authorities, such as the police or Europol, should be given access to asylum seekers' fingerprints in the Eurodac data base, but only if their personal data are properly protected said the Civil Liberties Committee on Monday.
Eurodac stores the fingerprints of asylum seekers aged over 14. Since 2003 it has been used to help determine which EU member state is responsible, under the Dublin regulation, for dealing with asylum applications made to EU or Dublin Associated States, i.e. Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
To address data protection concerns and help combat terrorism and serious crime, the European Commission proposed in May 2012, at the member states' request, to update Eurodac rules to allow national law enforcement authorities such as the police and Europol, to compare fingerprints held in their own databases with those contained in Eurodac.
“This regulation will increase safety in the EU. In cases of terrorism or serious crime, law enforcement authorities in member states will be able to compare fingerprints from crime scenes with those stored in Eurodac for a more efficient and quick identification of suspects, victims and witnesses”, explained rapporteur Monica Luisa Macovei after the committee vote.
Yes to police access to Eurodac, but on stricter conditions
MEPs voted in favour of giving police the access to Eurodac, but first inserted stricter safeguards than originally proposed to protect asylum seekers' data and ensure that they know that these data could be used not only for identification, but also for law enforcement purposes. The committee text points out that Eurodac "registers fingerprint data of persons to whom a legal presumption applies that they have a clear criminal record"..
The committee's amendments stipulate that comparing fingerprints for law enforcement purposes would possible only to prevent, detect or investigate specific cases of terrorist offences or other serious criminal offences where "there is an overriding public security concern which makes proportionate the querying of the database".
In such cases, an authority would be designated at national level to request, via an electronic form, a comparison of fingerprint data with those stored in Eurodac. If approved, the designated authority could then access Eurodac via a national access point. A verifying national authority would first check that the conditions for requesting such access are met. Both authorities may be part of the same organisation, but the verifying body should act independently and not receive instructions from the other authority, say MEPs.
The temporary or permanent impossibility of providing usable fingerprints should not adversely affect a person's legal situation of a person and neither should it constitute sufficient grounds to refuse to examine or to reject an international protection application, stressed the committee.
A record should be kept of any search conducted by law enforcement authorities to ensure that data protection supervisors can monitor the compliance of data processing with EU data protection rules. Any personal data retained other than for this purpose and the search record should be erased in all national and Europol files after one month, if these data are not meanwhile requested for a specific criminal investigation, say MEPs.
The Civil Liberties Committee adopted its position on Eurodac by 41 votes to 11 with 4 abstentions. The vote gives rapporteur a mandate to start talks with the Council, on 18 December.
Procedure: codecision (ordinary legislative procedure), first reading
In the chair: Kinga Gál (EPP, HU)