Freelance reporting, feature writing and copywriting

masthead has highlighted before the sometimes extraordinary steps taken by the EU Council to create, in Brussels-speak, a “European area of justice, freedom and security,” or in ordinary language, an area of snooping and monitoring, writes Stephen Gardner.

Brussels is particularly obsessed with the collection and exchange of data: Europeans cross borders more often nowadays, and so must be tracked in case they commit crimes. However, whereas home-grown surveillance measures can at least be debated in public and parliament, EU decisions are often made behind closed doors.

A visible result of one such measure will be coming soon to a passport office near you: collection of fingerprints as a “biometric identifier” in travel documents. Needless to say, the dabs will be held on a database and shared with other EU (and possibly non-EU) states.

Now the Commission is preparing plans that will see Brussels extend its reach over personal data. The proposals will take as their inspiration a report by the Future Group, a shadowy collection of interior ministers not even representing all EU countries (our own Baroness Scotland was there only as an observer, but did not apparently observe anything to make her uncomfortable). This received limited media attention during the summer, but a new analysis by voluntary watchdog Statewatch shows how far the amassing and tracking of data could go.

Thanks to technology, “public security organisations will have access to almost limitless amounts of potentially useful information,” the Future Group gleefully notes. But how to harness the “data tsunami” (the Future Group's own term)? The ministers want by default policing agencies anywhere in Europe to have access to data held by any other agency through an EU “law enforcement information management strategy” -- in other words a system for constant data surveillance that will overcome the current “uncoordinated and incoherent palette of information systems and instruments.”

The report gives six types of information that could be “managed” to begin with -- DNA, the aforementioned fingerprints, ballistics, car registrations, phone numbers and civil registry entries. But this is just the start. Though it does not name them, the Future Group says a further 43 types of information could be shared and tracked. You have been warned.

A version of this article originally appeared in Private Eye.


All material © ‘Purveyors of finest wordsmithing’. For syndication, contact us.