Global: EU Watchdog Raises Concerns Over Europol’s Plan for Migrant Biometric Data Exchange

EU Watchdog Raises Concerns Over Europol's Plan for Migrant Biometric Data Exchange
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A European data watchdog is closely examining a proposal to enhance Europol’s collaboration with Frontex and other agencies, aiming to increase the exchange of biometric data of migrants.

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), responsible for overseeing privacy and data protection practices within European institutions and bodies, has raised serious legal questions regarding the European Commission’s proposed regulation. While the regulation targets combating migrant smuggling and trafficking, it has prompted concerns about the adherence to data protection principles.

One of the key concerns highlighted by the EDPS is whether Europol will uphold its obligation to process and disseminate biometric data to Member States in accordance with the GDPR principles of strict necessity and proportionality.

The proposed regulation, introduced by the European Commission in November 2023, seeks to strengthen Europol’s role and inter-agency cooperation. It mandates Member States to share information, including biometrics, with Europol. Additionally, Europol’s European Centre Against Migrant Smuggling would collaborate in exchanging personal information with third countries.

In its evaluation, the EDPS recommended the establishment of mechanisms and rules to safeguard biometric data. It also criticized the proposal’s lack of a comprehensive impact assessment on human rights.

“This absence of assessment is deeply concerning, particularly given the sensitive nature of the personal data involved (biometric data) and the potential involvement of vulnerable individuals (migrants),” stated the agency in its briefing dated January 23.

Under the leadership of Wojciech Wiewiórowski, the agency has previously voiced reservations about initiatives by EU states and Frontex border officials to collect migrants’ personal data through Eurodac, the EU’s fingerprint database for identifying asylum seekers and irregular border-crossers. Recently, the European Data Protection Supervisor highlighted the legal risks associated with managing biometric data, including those pertaining to Europol.

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