Post-Brexit Britain will come under immediate pressure from the EU to expand its sharing of DNA data needed to catch international criminals or risk being cut off from crucial databases.
EU officials said there was deep frustration at a perceived “lack of reciprocity” in how Britain co-operated with the rest of the bloc in sharing key law enforcement data.
One focus of discontent is the bloc’s so-called Prüm arrangements for cross-border access to national DNA, vehicle licence plate, and fingerprint databases. The EU has warned that UK access to DNA data could be cut off even before the end of its post-Brexit transition period unless the current lopsided arrangements are fixed.
The tensions arise from Britain’s policy of sharing DNA data of convicted criminals but not of criminal suspects. Other EU member states share both.
The EU and the UK agreed last year that the country would “complete a review” of its policy by June 15 2020. Failure by Britain to accept sharing of suspects’ data would then start a three-month countdown for the EU to “re-evaluate the situation with regard to the continuation or termination of DNA data exchange with the UK”.
“Prüm is a clear case of lack of reciprocity,” said one EU official. Last year’s decision “shows our frustration.”
The tensions are a sign of the difficult negotiations that lie ahead on the future EU-UK security partnership, notably on access to databases. Britain will become the only major country in Western Europe outside both the Schengen passport free zone and the EU, creating legal and practical difficulties for information sharing.
Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch Liberal member of the European Parliament, said the Prüm row was part of a wider annoyance in the EU over the UK’s handling of sensitive law enforcement data.
She said the UK had “grossly abused” its privileges by copying data from the
Schengen Information System — a giant cross-border database which is used for border management and contains data on people entering and leaving the bloc. Brussels was also shocked by revelations in the Guardian this year that a computer error meant Britain had failed to pass on the details of 75,000 convictions of foreign criminals to their home countries in the EU, and then tried to cover up the mistake.
“Over the past couple of years, the UK has been completely disregarding the rules and not living up to their promises,” said Ms in ‘t Veld, who specialises in data protection issues. “That raises questions about their reliability as a partner. If the UK even as a member of the EU couldn’t behave, what guarantees do we have when they are no longer a member?”
A UK Home Office spokesperson said that Britain was “engaging with the EU on a strong new security partnership, which will enable us to continue fighting serious organised crime and terrorism together.”
The spokesperson underlined the value of the Prüm arrangements, saying they had “led to tens of thousands DNA profiles matched in the UK and across EU Member States, leading to advances in law enforcement investigations across Europe.”
A political declaration on future relations, agreed on by Boris Johnson and EU leaders last year, commits both sides to seek a future security partnership with “reciprocal arrangements for timely, effective and efficient exchanges” of data, including in the areas covered by the Prüm arrangements.