EU Ministers to explore legislation for sharing DNA and fingerprint data

22/01/07. By the Public Health Genetics Unit

European Union Ministers from the 27 Member States have informally agreed to explore a plan that would enable the exchange of personal data across national borders.

By sharing information such as motor vehicle registration, DNA and fingerprint data, the aim is to "create a modern police information network for more effective crime control throughout Europe," according to German interior minister Wolfgang Schäuble.

Ministers are now planning to propose transposing the existing Treaty of Prüm [PDF 200KB] into EU legislation. This Treaty, agreed between six Member States in 2005, created a network of national databases to facilitate the exchange of personal data.

Specifically, the Treaty sets up a system for requesting and receiving information, allowing countries to grant automated access to specific national databases. Vehicle registration data is directly accessible. DNA and fingerprint files are handled differently. Representatives from one country can query another country's DNA database and receive a 'hit' or 'no hit' response in return. If there is a 'hit' then additional information can then be requested.

The Treaty states that "reference data must not contain any data from which the data subject can be directly identified". In addition, "a reasonable standard of data protection" is required on the part of the receiver of the data. Currently, Germany and Austria have each checked their databases against the other to trace 'untraceables' and have had successful results.

According to Minister Schäuble, the success of the efforts of Germany and Austria shows that "…the idea behind the Prüm Treaty to create a network of existing national databases is a simple yet very effective means to fight cross-border crime and international terrorism".

While the UK has agreed with other Member States to explore turning the Treaty into EU legislation, representatives, together with those from Ireland, Poland and the Czech Republic, have stated that "they needed more time to examine the financial and judicial implications…" Deliberations will no doubt be slow as there are many issues to take into account. The text of the existing Treaty is expected to form the basis of draft legislation, but revisions in that text are expected.

Adapted from a news release by the Public Health Genetics Unit .

Image credit: Dr David Becker


Germany 2007 press release (15/01/07)

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