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EU watchdog: Europol’s plan for migrant biometric data raises ‘serious questions’

EU watchdog: Europol’s plan for migrant biometric data raises ‘serious questions’

A European data watchdog is scrutinizing a proposal to enhance Europol’s cooperation with Frontex and other agencies that would boost the exchange of biometric data of migrants.

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), the body in charge of monitoring European institutions and bodies privacy and data protection practices, says that while the European Commission’s proposed regulation is aimed at fighting against migrant smuggling and trafficking, it also raises serious legal questions. Among the main questions is whether Europol will keep to its obligation to process biometric data and disseminate it to Member States in line with the GDPR principles of strict necessity and proportionality.

The Commission proposed the Regulation to reinforce Europol’s role and inter-agency cooperation back in November 2023. The regulation strengthens Member States’ obligations to share information with Europol, including biometrics. Europol’s European Centre Against Migrant Smuggling would also cooperate in exchanging personal information with third countries.

In its note, EDPS recommended establishing a mechanism and rules for protecting biometric data. It also criticized the proposal’s lack of an impact assessment on human rights.

“This is deeply worrying given the nature of the personal data at stake (sensitive biometric data) and that vulnerable people may be involved (migrants),” the agency wrote in its brief dated January 23.

Led by Wojciech Wiewiórowski, the agency has previously criticized initiatives from EU states and Frontex border officials to collect the personal data of migrants through Eurodac (European Dactyloscopy), the EU’s fingerprint database for identifying asylum seekers and irregular border-crossers. More recently, the European Data Protection Supervisor outlined the legal risks connected to managing biometric data, including those to Europol.

Last week, Statewatch published a consolidated text of the new Eurodac Regulation, which is part of the wider European Asylum and Migration Pact.

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