Posts Tagged ‘mobility’

Britain faces heat over ‘illegal’ use of EU migration data

European parliamentarians lashed out at the United Kingdom on Thursday over reports of abuse and illegal copying of a border control database compiled by the EU.

Their message: We want our data back.

“In the kindness of our hearts we have given them access to the Schengen Information System, and they are behaving like cowboys,” Liberal MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld said about British authorities’ handling of the migration information.

The U.K. is under fire over reports that the country mishandled and illegally copied data held in the SIS database, which contains tens of millions of records on EU citizens and people traveling in Europe, including fingerprints, facial images and DNA data.

The U.K. was granted access to the Schengen database in 2015, despite not being a member of the area that allows people to travel through it without passports and visas.

Liberal MEPs are now calling for a “full investigation” into the U.K.’s misuse of the data

As early as August 2015, the European Commission found misuse and mismanagement issues in its evaluations of the U.K.’s use of the database — issues that the EUObserver first reported on in 2018 after obtaining a confidential document from the EU executive.

Now, the scandal threatens to hamper security cooperation between London and Brussels as Britain heads toward Brexit.

“This is not a partner we can work with under these conditions,” in ‘t Veld said in a debate in the civil liberties committee of the European Parliament.

In ‘t Veld is one of 15 MEPs from the Liberal Renew Europe group who asked the Commission for an official response on why it has yet to react to abuses and mismanagement of the EU-compiled database by U.K. authorities.

In ‘t Veld is one of 15 MEPs from the Liberal Renew Europe group who asked the Commission for an official response  | Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images

The Commission has not formally responded to the questions. But a Commission official told MEPs Thursday that it “is now considering to continue the evaluation process” as the U.K. is set to continue to use data in the SIS system through the Brexit transition period, which lasts until at least the end of 2020.

In May 2018, EUObserver cited a Commission document that said the British government had “a significant number of full or partial copies of the SIS database,” some of which were “administered by different private companies.”

The U.K.’s handling of the data was “contrary to the core objectives and legal framework of the system,” according to the document, which the website published last July.

Marked “restricted,” the document further spells out how the British government also mismanaged implementation of the system, leading to potential failures to alert authorities when people who had been flagged to be arrested, reported missing or requiring checks entered the country.

In response to the scandal, former European Security Commissioner Julian King told EUObserver that the U.K. was taking “practical steps” to solve the issues identified by EU experts.

“For me it’s very clear: No more access to the Schengen Information System. Full stop” — Sophie in ‘t Veld, MEP, Renew Europe

But the EU has stopped short of cutting off the United Kingdom’s access to the database, a Commission official told MEPs Thursday.

The official added it is up to national capitals to stop the information-sharing: “The decision to give the U.K. access to the SIS was not a decision of the Commission. In the same way it is not up to the Commission to [exclude it],” the official said.

Liberal MEPs are now calling for a “full investigation” into the U.K.’s misuse of the data, the copies it holds and the Commission’s handling of the case.

“For me it’s very clear: No more access to the Schengen Information System. Full stop,” said in ‘t Veld. She added that “the Commission is failing its duty to the citizens” by failing to hold the U.K. to account.

A U.K. government spokesperson told POLITICO it was “fully committed to meeting our legal obligations.” “We have a very close security partnership with EU countries, providing information on thousands of alerts every year,” the spokesperson said.

Vincent Manancourt contributed reporting.

UPDATED: This story has been updated to include comment from a U.K. government spokesperson.

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