Anne-Marie Trevelyan is the MP for Berwick upon Tweed.
On Tuesday, MPs are going to be asked to support the Government’s request to take us back into the Prüm Convention, the EU cross-border policing agreement which the Home Secretary opted out of in 2013. It seems that the real reason for not opting back in immediately to Prüm was not an understanding of the British people’s view that we did not want to be tied into EU police and criminal justice measures set out in Lisbon Treaty, but that the Home Office would have been fined because they could not get things up and running by the 1st December 2014.
So if we are to support the business case set out in Home Office Command Paper 9149, then we would be spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money (£16 million is suggested, but we know how bad Government is at rolling out new computer systems) to build a new IT portal which would allow fellow EU member states signed up to Prüm to search our DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration databases to match data and find criminals.
There are some basic safeguards indicated, such as the pledge that any positive hits would then be reviewed and only if the data hit was of someone who had been convicted of an offence in the UK would their personal details be handed over to a foreign police force.
So, in theory, for any other DNA or fingerprint data hits – of minors, of those whose cases have not concluded, of those arrested, charged but not convicted – no personal details would be handed over. Call me a cynic, but the prospect of new computer systems, a tight deadline to meet to join up, and zealous police forces keen to solve crimes with any and all tools available to them from across the EU does not make me feel overly reassured as to the security of our most personal data.
In relation to Vehicle Registration Data, it makes no sense at all to be building new IT portals, because there is already a system agreed and signed up to (EUCARIS) which is due to be working across the whole EU by mid-2017 anyway.
So why would this be a useful tool for UK police forces? According to the Home Office Command Paper, the criminal records office suggests that approximately 15 per cent of all arrests involve foreign nationals, but less than 50 per cent of those are EU citizens. So why should we support a proposal which is almost certainly going to put all of our most personal data into the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, just as our Home Secretary has talked so firmly of trying to reduce ECJ jurisdiction over justice and home affairs.
If we join Prüm, the maintenance of this national DNA and fingerprint database will be a requirement under EU law. The processing of all this data will have to be in accordance with EU law, notwithstanding the safeguards we choose to build into our national law about limiting data sharing to convicted criminals.
I’m afraid that I just cannot see where there is much benefit to UK residents, compared to the risks attached to ECJ control over our personal data. Since criminals whom our police forces might want to track down could come from any country in the world, I believe we should be investing in our relationship and active data transfers with Interpol. They can tap into the Prüm portals of EU countries so that we could go through them as now, and we could work with them to build stronger relations with all nations. We should not be risking more ECJ control over our national judicial systems.