Select Committee on European Communities Report



68.  PROPOSED PROTOCOL TO THE CONVENTION ON THE USE OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY FOR CUSTOMS PURPOSES AND PROPOSAL ON THE DELIMITATION OF INFORMATION TO BE CAPTURED ON THE DATABASES

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Dawn Primarolo MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury

  Sub-Committee E (Law and Institutions) considered the draft Protocol and the proposal on delimitation of information at its meeting on 18 November. The Committee has also seen a complete set of amended guidelines on delimitation. The Committee is content to clear both documents from scrutiny.

  The Committee notes that the CIS Convention is one of a number of Third Pillar Conventions establishing a central database facility. The proposal on delimitation demonstrates the difficulties inherent in distinguishing between information related to Third Pillar matters and information related to areas of Community competence. The Committee would be grateful for confirmation that there will be no disparity in the level of data protection under the laws applicable in the UK according to the particular database on which the information is stored.

  The Committee understands that the European Parliament has expressed the view that a Protocol is not necessary to enable Europol to have access to the Third Pillar CIS database, on the grounds that Article 7(3) of the Convention does not apply to internal EU bodies. The Committee is surprised by this assertion and would like to have the Government's opinion.

  On the general issue of data protection under the Treaties, the Committee was interested to hear of the Italian proposal, discussed at the May Justice and Home Affairs Council, to harmonise data protection requirements for all Third Pillar instruments. The Committee would like to know how the proposal has been taken forward and what the current state of progress is.

19 November 1998

Letter from Dawn Primarolo MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 19 November. I was pleased to note that the European Communities Committee considered both of the above documents at its meeting on 18 November and cleared them from scrutiny.

  You raise some general questions in relation to the Third Pillar CIS database, data protection and access by others organisations. The answers to these are set out below.

  Your first question concerned the protection of data to be stored on both the First and Third Pillar databases. The Committee has asked for confirmation that there will be no disparity in the level of data protection under the laws applicable in the UK according to the particular database on which the information is stored. I can confirm that the 1998 Data Protection Act, which received Royal Assent earlier this year and will implement the Data Protection Directive in the UK, will apply to activities covered by both the First and Third Pillars.

  Your second question concerned a report of the European Parliament dated 29 October 1998 on the draft Protocol to the CIS Convention. In their report the European Parliament has proposed an amendment to the Protocol and to Article 7(1) of the CIS Convention to provide direct access to the CIS database by the European Police Office (Europol). Their explanation for suggesting the amendment states that "since Europol is organised as an internal Union body, it does not require the conclusion of a separate protocol pursuant to the procedure set out in Article 7(3) of the Convention which is intended to apply to international or regional organisations." You expressed surprise at the assertion made by the European Parliament and asked for the Government's opinion.

  You will be aware from the Explanatory Note that the UK would have preferred the draft Protocol to have included a provision extending access to the Third Pillar CIS database to other organisations including Europol. In the event this was omitted from the Protocol because it did not receive the support of all Member States. However, it remains a priority for the UK. That said, however, we do not agree with the view expressed by the European Parliament. Article 7(1) of the CIS Convention states that "access to the Third Pillar CIS database is reserved exclusively for the national authorities designated by each Member State. These national authorities shall be customs administrations, but may also include other authorities competent, according to the laws, regulations and procedures of the Member State in question, to act in order to achieve the aim stated in Article 2(2)." The Convention does not provide for direct access by any EU body or institution. Customs view is that Europol is an international or regional organisation within the terms of Article 7(3) of the Convention and that in order for them to be granted direct access a Protocol to the Convention would be necessary.

  Your final point concerns the general issue of data protection and the proposal made by Italy to the May Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council, to harmonise data protection requirements for all Third Pillar instruments. You enquire what the current state of progress is with this proposal. This is strictly a matter for my Home Office colleagues, but I am advised that the Italian proposal was discussed at the May JHA Council and the Council Legal Service (CLS) was asked to provide a report analysing the position on data protection in respect of Third Pillar instruments. The CLS report was recently considered by the K4 Committee and at that meeting the Austrian Presidency referred the report to the Horizontal Informatics Group. That Group has yet to meet to discuss the report.

  I am copying this to the Chairman and Clerk of the European Legislation Committee.


 
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