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DNA data deal 'will create Big Brother Europe'

Philip Johnston and Bruno Waterfield
London Telegraph
Friday, February 16, 2007  

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 from 2009.

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 for Britain".

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."

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