In the Prüm Treaty, the police search for biometric data among EU Member States is significantly simplified. Under Austria’s leadership, the extension is now being examined for facial recognition. A corresponding Council decision could already be taken next year.
The European Union wants to make it much easier for the police to cross-check biometric data. This concerns mugshots or photographs that are stored in police databases after identification by the police. If an authority wants to determine the identity of a person using a photograph, each EU Member State must currently be contacted individually. It is therefore planned to set up a system that will allow data to be searched simultaneously in each country.
The Prüm Treaty, which regulates EU-wide cooperation to combat terrorism, cross-border crime and migration classified as illegal, will be used to improve the networking of national police databases. The agreement was initiated by the German Interior Ministry under Wolfgang Schäuble in 2005 and signed in Prüm, a small town in the Eifel region. Originally established as an intergovernmental regulation of some governments, the treaty was incorporated into the legal framework of the European Union in 2008.
“Next Generation Prüm”
The Treaty allows the authorities of all EU Member States to consult cross-border DNA files, fingerprint and vehicle data. The exchange of information is based on the hit/no hit procedure: The authorities are informed whether a hit has been made. In order to obtain more information, they must submit a request to the competent authority – the so-called follow-up procedure.
The expansion of the Prüm treaty is part of the renewed EU Strategy for Internal Security 2015 to 2020. It is based on the Council conclusions of last year on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the EU Prüm decisions.
The project is known as “Next Generation Prüm”, or “Prüm.ng”. The aim is to simplify data formats, query procedures and follow-up correspondence. For example, it would be possible to include personal data in the query by a national authority that could help in the search for existing biometric data with less mistakes. The use of standardised software is also planned.
In order to set up the new system, the EU Member States have set up three so-called focus groups on DNA data (lead: Germany), fingerprints (lead: Austria) and vehicle registration data (still without lead).
A feasibility study will examine how the existing capabilities can be further expanded. The European Commission has commissioned the consulting firm Deloitte to do this. The delegations of the EU member states will answer questionnaires on possible improvements, followed by joint workshops. The results should be available in November.
The German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) is also participating in the study. In another EU project, the BKA has developed the UMF3+ format, which facilitates the exchange of police information within the European Union. The results of the project could be incorporated into “Next Generation Prüm”.
Forensics departments look for technology
In order to extend “Next Generation Prüm” to facial recognition, a fourth focus group has been set up under the leadership of Austria. The BKA, which can contribute its experience from German projects there, is also participating in this group: face recognition in police investigations, in public spaces, at border crossings or after summit protests. In addition, the BKA will soon convert its own face matching system in the INPOL search database to a new procedure.
The EU Commission is already funding research into the European facial recognition system with half a million euros. Forensic departments from Finland, Latvia, Sweden and the Netherlands, led by the Estonian Ministry of Justice, are examining possible technical procedures in the TELEFI (“Towards the European Level Exchange of Facial Images”) project. With a duration of only 18 months, the project is comparatively short, results should be available as early as next summer.
The cross-border retrieval of facial images would then have to be regulated by law with new EU Prüm decisions. If the function were not implemented within the framework of the existing contract, it could also be implemented in a “Prüm-like Face Recognition System”.
Image: Face recognition in the EU project SMILE (all rights reserved SMart mobILity at the European land borders).