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Wed 12 August 2020
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David Hencke reports on how the Government has broken David Cameron’s promise to protect British databases by the backdoor route of another obscure legal mechanism

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More than 100,000 criminal suspects at any one time can now have their fingerprints and DNA profile shared across 31 European countries in a Government deal with the European Union that has bypassed parliamentary scrutiny.

The decision conveyed to MPs in a written statement by the Security Minister James Brokenshire last month has provoked a strong response from Bill Cash, the Conservative chair of Parliament’s European Scrutiny Committee, which has written to the minister demanding an explanation.

David Cameron’s Government ruled out sharing the UK’s database of suspects precisely because it could mean that innocent people could be put on other countries’ databases

Ministers have used a mechanism known as the Prüm Convention – named after a small German town – to change the sharing of information after Brexit and to make further changes using ‘diplomatic notes’, meaning that Parliament will not be consulted. The Convention allows third party countries to join and covers Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, as well as the 27 EU countries.

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The Government’s decision is particularly incendiary as, in 2015, David Cameron’s Government ruled out sharing the UK’s database of suspects with other countries precisely because it could mean that innocent people could be put on other countries’ databases.

“A change in the Government’s policy on access to the DNA profiles and fingerprints of criminal suspects therefore merits particularly close scrutiny by Parliament, given that it alters the very basis on which Parliament agreed to UK participation in Prüm data exchanges in December 2015,” Cash wrote to the Security Minister.

He challenged the minister’s written statement to Parliament asking him “to confirm that the notification given to the EU institutions on 15 June 2020 concerning the exchange of suspects’ data covers DNA and fingerprints and, if so, why this was not made explicit in your written statement to Parliament of the same date”.

Cash is also asking him to “explain why you notified us of the Government’s policy review after it had concluded, rather than seeking to engage with Parliament earlier in the process”.

The changes have been approved by the Northern Ireland Executive but Scotland has so far declined to implement them and is instead holding consultations with the UK Government as criminal justice and policing matters are devolved.

Brokenshire has defended the changes as “important public safety benefits”. He added that “the Government’s policy to date of not sharing the DNA profiles of criminal suspects puts us out of step with EU member states”. 

Another reason for the change was that the National Crime Agency and Metropolitan Police Service have identified “risks and missed opportunities associated with not sharing suspects’ data and support the inclusion of criminal suspects in the Prüm data sharing mechanism”.

Cash is also asking the Government to explain why any future agreement post-Brexit will, unlike other third countries, not include a reference to the European Court of Human Rights and end data protection under EU law.


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