New database: EU extends criminal records to third country nationals and stateless persons

Five EU biometric databases will be merged into a „Common Identity Repository“. The regulations of all systems have to be renewed. The possibilities of the authorities will be expanded.

The European Union will extend its cross-border European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS) to third-country nationals and stateless persons. This was agreed by the Council and Parliament on Tuesday. The exchange of information on criminal convictions of third-country nationals is intended to help in the fight against terrorism and is part of the „European Security Agenda“. The new regulation, on which the Commission presented a proposal a year ago, still has to be formally adopted by both parties. The database will then be called ECRIS-TCN („third country nationals“).

Established in 2012, ECRIS enables the exchange of information on criminal convictions between EU countries. Until now, only EU nationals are stored. Third-country nationals convicted in one Member State and stored in national databases were able to avoid further reprisals by moving to another Member State. Authorities can currently only find out about previous convictions by consulting individual states. The new ECRIS-TCN is designed to fill this gap.

German authorities make three quarter of a million enquiries

The ECRIS-TCN is managed as a centralised system by the EU-Lisa Agency. The system stores and processes fingerprints that can be searched via a „Automated Fingerprint Identification System“ (AFIS). Facial images are also stored. However, these are not yet searchable and are therefore only used to verify the identity of a third-country national. „As soon as this is technically possible“, however, according to the German Federal Government, automated facial recognition is to be used. The European Commission should submit a report on the availability and suitability of facial recognition software and the proportionality of its use.

A query of the ECRIS database on the basis of personal data or fingerprint data is carried out in the so-called „hit/no hit procedure“, in which the requesting authority is initially only informed of the existence of any convictions. Subsequently, a request for mutual legal assistance must be made in order to receive the information.

In the last five years, German authorities have answered more than one hundred thousand questions from Member States in ECRIS. Over the same period, almost a three quarter of a million enquiries have been made to the Member States. Between 2014 and 2016, British authorities sent more than 224,000 enquiries to the Member States and answered almost 30,000.

ECRIS is part of the new „data pot“

ECRIS, together with the fingerprint database Eurodac, the Schengen Information System (SIS II) and the Visa Information System (VIS), is one of the biometric databases to be merged under the „interoperability“ programme. The „Entry/Exit System“ (EES) still to be set up is also to be integrated into this „data pot“, as the former German minister of interior named it. At its heart is a „Common Identity Repository“ (CIR) in which fingerprints and facial images are stored with personal data in a single searchable pile. The technology comes from a joint venture of Accenture, Safran and Atos.

Also planned is a shared „Biometric Matching Service“ (BMS) that checks each new entry against existing data. If fingerprints or facial images already exist for a person, the better quality ones will be retained. In addition, a uniform „European Search Portal“ (ESP) is planned, which queries several databases at the same time for a police inquiry. Finally, a „Multiple Identity Detector“ (MID) will be introduced to compare fingerprints and facial images with personal data.

Image: Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash