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EU opts for ‘pragmatic approach’ on negotiations with US over biometric data sharing

EU opts for ‘pragmatic approach’ on negotiations with US over biometric data sharing

The President of the Council of the European Union said in a recent note that the Commission had opted for a “pragmatic approach” to respond to certain delays in the negotiation process between EU member states and the United States over plans to introduce new requirements for the latter’s Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

The U.S. said last year that it wants to set up what it calls an Enhanced Border Security Partnership (EBSP) with countries participating in the VWP. As part of the plan, VWP participating countries will be obliged to share their biometric databases with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for purposes of immigration screening and other identity vetting processes.

Since then, there has been some work within the EU Council and discussions and negotiations on the matter are being pursued at different levels. Technical discussions and regular briefings have also taken place, according to the note published by Statewatch, a group that monitors state and civil liberties in Europe.

The pragmatic approach, according to the note, means “to dissociate information exchange from issues linked to visa policy,” when EU member states engage with the U.S. on “bilateral negotiations.”

The Commission also suggests that “considering the continuous and systematic transfers envisaged by the U.S.,” negotiations should also be based on “an international agreement or administrative arrangement ensuring sufficient data protection safeguards.”

While the President notes that the level of coordination of the discussions so far is positive, the Commission underlines the need for further regular meetings and briefings, as well as exchange of views on the possible next steps to take.

In the meantime, as discussions and consultations continue to find common ground on the EBSP, rights groups have raised issues about a lack of transparency in the negotiations. The major concerns have been about data privacy and security.

Statewatch has questioned why the EU and some of its member countries are planning to share biometrics with the U.S. when it is known not to have proper safeguards for the data of non-citizens.

“The EU’s own top court has ruled on multiple occasions that the USA does not offer adequate privacy protections for non-citizens, yet the Commission and the member states are planning to open up their biometric databases to the Department of Homeland Security and, by extension, who knows how many other US agencies? The fact that discussions on the plan are taking place in secret makes it all the more galling, albeit entirely unsurprising,” says Statewatch’s Director Chris Jones in a statement.

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