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New biometric data-sharing compact with US too hot for European Commission

New biometric data-sharing compact with US too hot for European Commission

Never mind that enhanced border security plan between the EU and U.S. to share the biometric and other personally identifying data of European residents.

Instead, it seems that United States officials will have to negotiate shared identity databases with each EU member state. That sharing has been going on, but the new plan would mean continuous and systematic transfers of biometrics to the U.S.

And the numbers involved in the joint international border program – the Enhanced Border Security Partnership – are startling, according to an analysis by civil liberties advocate Statewatch. The United States would need “direct access to registers holding the personal data of hundreds of millions of people.”

A European Commission working group of EU and U.S. officials had been examining what a partnership would look like. But it disbanded without comment, which means the U.S. will be approaching EU members individually.

There are several compelling reasons for any nation to sign a border security agreement involving shared biometric data, even if it means sharing more biometric data with the U.S.

The backend of the U.S.’ system is IDENT/HART, the 270 million identity database that reportedly holds 1.1 billion encounters with the people represented in the database. A database that big could help identify suspects.

Also, U.S. officials have for some time offered select nations membership in the highly attractive Visa Waiver Program. EU citizens have been able to travel within the U.S. for 90 days without a visa.

The program, which began in 1986, has evolved including in the personal data that is collected and shared.

When the U.S. was negotiating with the EU on the partnership, governments participating in the Visa Waiver Policy would be required to also participate in the Enhanced Border Security Partnership.

That level of strong-arming is unpopular in some EU circles, especially when paired with growing distrust for the U.S.’s use, management and security policies for European biometric data.

Perhaps the ultimate reason for the European Commission to quietly back away from the new program is the perception by some that data sharing between the United States and its partner is not reciprocal.

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