Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft

Fear raised by Euro police computer

2 January 1999. Thanks to Anonymous (2).

The Times [London], 02 January 1999

Fear raised by Euro police computer

>From Roger Boyes in Bonn 

The new year opens the door not only for the euro but also for Europol, the fledgeling 15-nation police intelligence agency that will use the first part of its new computer system to fight crime across the union.

TECS - The Europol Computer System - is a policeman's dream and a nightmare for civil rights activists. At present the computer is defined as an interim system but will soon provide the police agency with full analytical data not only on convicted criminals and suspects but also victims, potential victims, those with suspected criminal contacts and probably even witnesses. Data on health and race can also be stored.

Eventually, TECS will be expanded to provide a more general data bank with a capacity to store information on about a million or more people. The German Government - especially the Green Party - has become very nervous about its introduction. Germany has the strictest data protection laws in Europe and the question of access to the stored information is particularly sensitive. At first only Europol officials - nationally delegated detectives who work in The Hague - will be able to use the data base.

When the system expands, however, policemen from every country will be able to tap into the Europol data bank. A French policeman could thus discover private aspects of a German's life and behave more freely with that information than a German policeman.

The arrest of a Belgian policeman on suspicion of selling information from the Schengen information system to the Mafia sent alarm bells ringing in Germany. The question of storing information on witnesses is particularly controversial.

Europol officers cannot, as yet, function in the manner of a federal police force, and the head of Europol is a well-respected German detective. However, the data question is likely to become a flashpoint.

Copyright 1998 Times Newspapers Ltd.