The Visa Information System (VIS)
26. The database of the Visa Information System
contains the data on visa applicants needed for the exchange of
information between those Member States which have abolished checks
at their internal borders. VIS is not a law enforcement tool,
but is being developed for the application of the Common Visa
27. Under point 6, the Heiligendamm Conclusions
"[The ministers] also emphasized that the authorities
responsible for internal security of participating States must
have full and effective access to both SIS and VIS to satisfy
the interest of all EU Member States in efficient crime control."
The "participating States" do not include
the United Kingdom; the Council Legal Service regards VIS as part
of the Schengen acquis, so that United Kingdom access to
information on VIS is denied. Nevertheless Mr Storr emphasised
the desirability of law enforcement authorities throughout Europe
having access to the system.
28. The position is not entirely analogous to
Eurodac, since in the case of VIS there is already a Commission
proposal on the table for access to the information by law enforcement
under this proposal would be subject to important safeguards.
Only designated national authorities would have access to the
information; access would be limited to specific categories of
serious crime; access must be necessary in a specific case; the
information which can be accessed is limited; and further onward
transfer of information would be restricted. Crucially, Article
8 of the proposed Decision provides for the DPFD to apply, and
the Decision on access to VIS could not apply until the DPFD has
entered into force.
29. In an explanatory memorandum of 19 December
2005 the Government welcomed this proposal, and stated that "it
attaches importance to ensuring that an important mechanism exists
to protect personal data processed under this proposal. The Government
welcomes the provisions under Article 8 of the draft proposal
and in particular notes the provision that the [DPFD] will apply
to personal data processed under this instrument." The application
of the DPFD was also welcomed by the European Data Protection
Supervisor in his Opinion of 20 January 2006. But both he and
the United Kingdom Information Commissioner thought that the position
of those countries which (like the United Kingdom) do not have
direct access to VIS should be clarified, so that the DPFD applies
to them too in relation to information from VIS sent to them by
a participating State.
30. The proposal for access to VIS by law enforcement
authorities is a document we continue to keep under scrutiny.
We have had correspondence with Home Office ministers about it,
and some of our questions have been answered, most recently in
a letter from Tony McNulty MP of 20 February 2006. Mr McNulty
wrote again on 2 March 2006 to provide us with the views of the
Information Commissioner on this proposal. These raised a number
of concerns which we were told would be taken into account during
negotiations. We hope therefore that the "full and effective
access" which the G6 ministers consider desirable continues
to be subject to the rigorous safeguards contained in the Commission
proposal, and to the application of the DPFD which the Government
welcomed three months earlier.
31. The Government should ensure that access
to data in the Visa Information System for the purposes of crime
control is subject to safeguards no less rigorous than those in
the current Commission proposal, including those suggested by
the data protection authorities.