German Interior Minister Schäuble wants EU member states to share DNA and digital fingerprint data in future to make it easier to catch criminals and fight terrorism.
The proposal could ease the apprehension of suspects across EU borders, advocates say
German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said Monday that the proposal would speed up cross-border cooperation and information-sharing among police in the 27-member EU and help crack down on crime.
Schäuble says the plan will improve information-sharing
Speaking at an informal meeting of EU counterparts in the city of Dresden, the first of its kind since Germany took over the six-month EU presidency, Schäuble said a Europe-wide networking of DNA databanks would offer "a huge sea of possibilities to recognize and prevent crime."
He said the plan would allow investigators from an EU nation for the first time to have access to a DNA or fingerprint databank of crime suspects in all other EU member states. The only prerequisite, Schäuble said, would be that a formal investigation would first have to be opened.
Widening existing treaty
Schäuble's plan isn't entirely new. It touches upon an existing agreement called the "Prüm Treaty" on police cooperation which seven states have already signed.
Named after the western German town where it was signed in 2005, it allows participating nations mutual and automatic access to DNA and fingerprint records, as well as car registration information. The treaty allows police to pursue fugitives across another EU state's border in case of imminent danger to individuals. It also allows joint police patrols.
But the treaty is only operational in Germany, Austria and Spain.
"Our aim is to create a modern police information network for more effective crime control throughout Europe," Schäuble said.
The plan will lead to more cross-border cooperation in the EU
Schäuble also pointed out that in the six weeks that the Prüm system has been in operation, the sharing of information between Germany and Austria has led to 1,500 DNA matches, including 32 in homicide cases and 23 in rape or sexual assault cases.
EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini said the treaty would achieve two seemingly contradictory goals -- making sensitive data available to security authorities while protecting the privacy rights of EU citizens.
Schäuble added that the information database would be used by police forces, not national intelligence agencies.
Not everyone in favor
The German minister said Monday that most EU member states had backed the idea of enshrining the Prüm Treaty in EU law.
"We have had a very broad consensus. I am pleasantly surprised," Schäuble said.
"DNA is today the most effective means of solving crime," said French Regional Development Minister Christian Estrosi, who represented French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy at the talks. On an EU-wide level "we could solve thousands of crimes much more quickly," he added.
However EU members Britain, Czech Republic, Ireland and Poland said they needed more time to think about the treaty for fear that it might be too expensive to update their existing databanks.
All states need to agree for the treaty to become EU law. The European Commission will put forward a formal proposal next month.
Schäuble's proposal was criticized Monday by Germany's opposition free-market liberals, the FDP. The debate among EU ministers in Dresden showed "the low premium that is put on civil rights and data security in EU legal and interior policy," said Gisela Piltz, FDP spokeswoman on security affairs.
More cooperation with US?
Schäuble also said he couldn't rule out opening Germany's police databank containing DNA and digital fingerprint information to the US. The minister, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Party, said the issue was first raised by representatives of the US Department of the Interior in September last year in order to help in the hunt for terrorism suspects who could be hiding in Germany.