The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has published a report on the human rights implications of proposals for interoperability of different information databases in the area of home affairs. While it can contribute to better decision-making and more efficient detection of missing children, necessary data protection safeguards need to be in place to shield individuals against human rights violations.

The EU is debating ways to connect the information stored in home affairs databases set up for discrete purposes, namely tracking asylum seekers and irregular migrants (Eurodac), irregular migrants (Schengen Information System), persons applying for a visa (Visa Information System), persons exempt for a visa requirement (forthcoming European Travel Information and Authorisation System) and travellers coming for a short stay, whether visa-required or visa-exempt (forthcoming Entry-Exit System). Interoperability would enable officials to access information more easily, for instance through a “single search interface” allowing them to search different databases at once, or a “biometric matching service” comparing one set of biometrics across different databases.

FRA raises the question of purpose limitation as one of the key challenges to the interoperability agenda. As the respective databases have distinct objectives and legal bases, connecting them creates risks of officials getting hold of information they are not authorised to access. The undue expansion of purposes is equally problematic within the context of individual databases. The proposed reform of Eurodac has raised substantial concerns, including from ECRE and the European Data Protection Supervisor, for unnecessarily and disproportionately broadening the mandate of the database to cover migration control.

On the other hand, while suggesting that access by asylum authorities to information contained in different databases may facilitate asylum procedures, for example by aiding them in establishing the identity of an asylum seeker, the report stresses the danger of unlawful access to data by countries of origin which could directly place applicants and their families at risk of harm.

Information-sharing through better and faster use of existing and future databases forms a priority area for the Estonian Presidency of the Council until the end of the year, as expressed at last week’s informal Justice and Home Affairs Council in Tallinn.

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Photo: FRA