Police across the EU are to be given free access to Britain's
DNA, fingerprint and car registration databases in a move denounced
last night as the creation of "Big Brother Europe".
At a meeting in Brussels, the Home Office agreed to a deal that
will set up a network of national crime records across 27 states.
All member states will have access to other countries' DNA and
fingerprint data, as well as direct online access to vehicle registries.
The exchanges could be up and running as early as next year and
might eventually lead to the creation of a single Euro-wide database.
Police in one country will be able to find out whether another
has data matching the profile of a suspected offender.
But critics last night questioned whether access to the databases
would have the same security safeguards throughout the EU.
They also said British tourists fingerprinted in the UK as witnesses
may find themselves sucked into foreign police investigations after
innocently leaving prints, or DNA, at a location that later becomes
a crime scene.
British police have millions of fingerprints on file –
and this number will grow when they are taken for passport applications
Britain also has by far the largest criminal DNA database in
the world – 50 times the size of the French equivalent.
When Labour took office in 1997, it held only 700,000 samples.
By next year, it will hold the samples of some 4.2 million people
– seven per cent of the population – and is growing
by about half a million a year.
The next largest DNA database in the EU is in Austria, where
less than one per cent of the population is included. Coverage
in Germany is half of that.
Britain gives its police greater freedom to obtain, use and store
genetic information than other countries, who remove the profiles
if the person is acquitted or not charged.
Civil liberties campaigners complain that the British database
has effectively become a "permanent list of suspects".
It includes at least 140,000 samples from people never charged
with any offence.
The DNA from nearly one million juveniles has been added over
the past decade.
David Heath, the Liberal Democrat spokesman, said: "While
sharing information about convicted criminals is obviously helpful
to crime prevention, it is quite another thing to be sharing information
about innocent citizens, and worse still to be sharing it without
the approval of either the UK or European parliaments."
David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: "The decision
to share broad categories of information across the enlarged EU
is deeply troubling. The information includes personal data, it
is not limited to criminals and there are no reliable means to
guarantee the safeguards on the use of that information by criminals
gangs or those not entitled to use that data."
He added: "At a time when the Government's failure to ensure
the proper registration of criminal convictions by British nationals
in the EU is the subject of investigation, it is astonishing that
ministers are proceeding with such a risky scheme without properly
thinking through the consequences or debating it properly in Parliament."
Syed Kamall, a Conservative member of the European Parliament's
justice and home affairs committee, said: "This convention
may be useful for landlocked countries that have relaxed their
border controls, but it is an unnecessary erosion of civil liberties
He added: "Not content with a Big Brother Britain, our government
is allowing the creation of a Big Brother Europe. "
Gerald Batten, a London UKIP MEP, said: "This is the thin
end of the wedge and will lead to a European-wide database including
all personal details including DNA. It is the beginning of an
Euro-wide, Big Brother state."
However, the Government says the database is an invaluable detection
tool that should be shared.
Last year, Britain provided some 5,000 DNA profiles to the Dutch
authorities in a special programme.
Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany's federal interior minister,
said: "Our aim is to create a modern police information network
for more effective crime control throughout Europe."