EU privacy watchdog criticizes 'Big Brother' database

A planned database of all non-EU citizens entering and leaving the bloc is disproportionate, says the European Data Protection Supervisor

A plan to set up a massive database of every non-European Union citizen entering and leaving the bloc is disproportionate, Europe's data privacy watchdog said Friday.

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), Peter Hustinx described the so-called "Smart Borders" initiative as intrusive and uneconomic, and said its aims could probably be achieved more efficiently by using already-existing databases.

In February the European Commission proposed setting up a Registered Traveler Programme (RTP) aimed at frequent business travelers or those with relatives in the E.U.; and an Entry/Exit System (EES). The RTP would make use of automated border control systems such as automated gates for pre-screened visitors, while the EES would digitally record the time and place of entry and exit of third-country nationals and issue an alert to national authorities when there is no exit record by the expiry time. The current practice when checking a third-country national wanting to cross the E.U.'s external borders is based mainly on the stamps in the travel document.

But, Hustinx said Friday, "There is no clear evidence that the Commission proposals will fulfil the aims that it has set out." Even the Commission's own assessments fail to prove that it will be sufficiently efficient to justify the expense and intrusions into privacy, he added.

He also expressed concern that there is an increasing number of databases related to border management, including VIS, SIS, CIS and EURODAC, and that there is a dangerous trend to give law enforcement authorities access to individual data within them. He pointed out that many third countries do not offer the same level of data protection as the E.U.

Members of the European Parliament Ska Keller and Jan Philipp Albrecht have set up a campaign against the proposals called Smashborders.EU urging citizens to fight against the creation of yet another large-scale IT database to store massive amounts of personal information. Albrecht likened it to "Big Brother surveillance".

The Parliament, as well as member states, will have to approve the plans which the Commission hopes to see come into force in 2017 or 2018.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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