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Moves underway to increase police data flow

Zurich police fingerprinting a suspect

(Keystone Archive)

The European Commission has called for the full free exchange of police data in Europe, but for the Schengen area and Switzerland limits remain.

On Wednesday the Schengen countries rejected an initiative that they considered too restrictive. An alternative is under consideration.

The EU justice commissioner, Franco Frattini, wants police forces within the bloc to share their data rapidly and without complications.

"The flow of information pertaining to crimes across national borders should be an accepted thing in the future," Frattini said.

The EU Commission wants to pass a resolution to make the flow of police data across borders easier. If this goes ahead, then the national forces will have to open their files freely to colleagues in other EU countries and in Europol. Refusal of access would only be possible in rare cases.

Data protection

This proposal brings up the delicate question of data protection. But it does not affect Switzerland, as it is not a part of the Schengen accord.

However, a similar initiative from the Swedish government does apply to the Schengen area. Under this proposal, the Schengen countries, soon to include Switzerland, would have to share almost all police information following a simple request and without a judicial assistance procedure.

For Switzerland and other countries is going decidedly too far. On Wednesday, the interior ministers of the Schengen countries debated the controversial initiative in Luxemburg and toned it down.

According to the leader of the Swiss delegation and EU ambassador, Bernhard Marfurt, a settlement is on the cards thanks to a compromise proposal submitted by the British presidency.

British proposal

The British solution allows more flexibility. Schengen countries would only have to deliver data as far as authorised by their existing legal system.

The Swiss police would, for example, not give out information gathered from interrogations or house searches. This is because information like this cannot easily be exchanged between cantonal police bodies within Switzerland without authorisation from an investigating judge.

Up to now, it has been relatively easy for the Swiss police to give foreign colleagues information from telephone directories or about car licence plates.

If this level of information exchange was as efficient in both directions, cooperation with other countries could be made easier, said Monique Jametti Greiner of the Federal Justice Office.

Roland Krimm, representative of the Swiss cantons in Brussels, is very happy with the outcome of the negotiations so far. "It shows that Switzerland can achieve a lot in the Schengen talks with clear and well-grounded positions."

swissinfo, Simon Thönen in Luxemburg

In brief

The EU is strongly pushing the full free exchange of police data between member states.

To counterbalance this, the EU commission has proposed better data protection for the Schengen countries.

Under the new rules the police would not be allowed, in principle, to collect data about political views or religious denomination.

Exceptions are allowed, in cases where in the information is absolutely necessary for the fight against crime.

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