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Trust issues could be a problem for US-EU biometric data sharing plan

Trust issues could be a problem for US-EU biometric data sharing plan

Ripples continue to spread after news broke that the United States wants to link biometric law enforcement databases across the North Atlantic. To no one’s surprise not everyone in Europe is a fan of the idea.

Statewatch, a civil liberties advocacy group, is skeptical about how it would work out for Europeans. It found two European Union members of parliament who also see problems.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has created the Enhanced Biometric Security Partnership that has reportedly found five takers, one of whom is the United Kingdom. The partnership is part of the DHS’ International Biometric Information Sharing Program and was first pitched to the EU in February.

It is a straightforward agreement to share data that could link people to incidents of smuggling, terrorism, fraud, sex offenders and others that commonly ignore national boundaries.

Any nation joining the partnership, sharing its biometric data, gets access to the more than 270 million identities in the DHS’ Ident/HART database. Ident holds records of 1.1 billion encounters those 270 million people have had with at least one of 40 U.S. government agencies.

Beginning in 2027, any nation wanting to participate in the United States’ Visa Waiver Program will have to also be a member of the biometric partnership. That is good leverage. The visa program allows people to enter the country without a visa for up to 90 days, making travel to the United States more efficient and less costly.

Patrick Breyer, an EU parliament member, issued a protesting statement after DHS had an “informal meeting” with a parliamentary civil liberties committee.

Breyer wrote that the United States is blackmailing the EU and the individual nations that make up the union by linking the visa program to participation in data sharing. Europeans who have police records could suffer “disproportionate reactions” by U.S. border agents.

The other MEP critical of the program, Sophia in ‘t Veld, also has accused the U.S. of “blackmail.” She has asked the European Commission how it will stop the United States from “gaining direct access to biometric databases in the EU” by going around the regional government.

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