By the Select Committee appointed to consider Community
proposals, whether in draft or otherwise, to obtain all necessary
information about them, and to make reports on those which, in
the opinion of the Committee, raise important questions of policy
or principle, and on other questions to which the Committee considers
that the special attention of the House should be drawn.
1. Computer databases and computer networks are playing
an increasingly important role in all of our lives. The rapid
development of computer software, and the falling prices of computer
hardware, have made it possible to store, analyse and disseminate
large quantities of information at speeds that would have been
unthinkable even ten years ago.
2. But these developments, while undoubtedly bringing
benefits to the citizen, also raise many questions. How does
information reach these databases? Who has access to it? What
right has the citizen to check and, if necessary, to correct data
held about himself or herself? What links exist between databases?
How vulnerable are large networks to "hacking" or corruption?
These questions are of particular importance in the field of
justice and home affairs, where information held may directly
affect citizens' rights to liberty or free movement.
3. Four major EU databases are in existence, or are
to be established in the near future. They appear to be little
known. The first aim of our Report is, therefore, to make available
the basic facts about these databases (see paragraphs 6-8 below,
and Table 1). We then summarise (in Part 2) the evidence we heard
on the issues raised in paragraph 2 above; links between the databases;
links to existing formal and informal information networks; the
data protection provisions of each database; and citizens' rights
to check and correct the data held.
4. Our opinion, set out in Part 3, is necessarily
provisional. Of the four databases we consider, only two are
operational at present, and there is little direct evidence either
of advantages flowing from the use of these databases, or of potential
problems which might arise. Therefore Part 3, rather than seeking
to draw firm conclusions at this stage, identifies important issues
which are unresolved, or which need to be addressed further.
5. The enquiry was carried out by Sub-Committee F
(Social Affairs, Education and Home Affairs), whose members are
listed in Appendix 1. The Sub-Committee received written and
oral evidence from the witnesses listed in Appendix 2. They wish
to express their thanks to the witnesses, who provided detailed
and thoughtful evidence in this specialised field.
6. The four databases with which this report is concerned
The Customs Information System (CIS), divided
into a "First Pillar" database (CIS 1), containing information
relating to offences against EC Customs legislation, and a "Third
Pillar" database (CIS 3), based on an Inter-governmental
Convention, and containing information relating to cross-border
criminal activity (e.g. money laundering).
The Schengen Information System (SIS), containing
information aimed at (a) combating trans-frontier crime, and (b)
the application of the Schengen Convention's provisions on free
movement of persons.
The Europol database, containing data and analysis
files relating to serious trans-frontier crime.
The Eurodac database, which will contain personal
data, including fingerprints, to be used exclusively for deciding
which Member State is responsible, under the Dublin Convention,
for examining an asylum application.
7. The four databases are described in detail in
memoranda submitted by the Home Office (pp 1 - 12), JUSTICE (pp
27 - 38), and Statewatch (pp 47 - 54). The reader is referred
to those memoranda for complete information, but a summary is
given in Table 1 opposite.
1 The UK is seeking to participate in all the Articles
of the Schengen Convention relating to the SIS but has indicated
that it does not intend to access or enter information on the
SIS relating to the movement of persons. The Council, as part
of its consideration of the UK application, has commissioned a
study on the technical feasibility of limiting participation in
the SIS. Back