In a decentralised system, the police forces of the EU member states network DNA files, fingerprints, vehicle data and soon also facial images. The automated retrieval of data in criminal investigations is now to be extended to firearms. However, a feasibility study had rejected this idea.
The Portuguese EU Presidency proposes to include firearms and their owners in the framework of the so-called Prüm Decisions. This is stated in a document published by Statewatch, according to which the 27 governments are now to start a discussion process. According to the proposal, the weapons registers of the member states are to be interlinked. The member states decided in 2008 to set up these national systems in the EU Weapons Directive.
The Prüm Decisions refer to a treaty that all EU member states also signed in 2008. So far, the networking relates to DNA files, fingerprints and data on motor vehicles and their owners. It is a decentralised system, but connected via a central server.
Expansion with facial recognition
On the occasion of its tenth anniversary, the then Austrian EU Presidency had proposed to extend the Prüm Decisions to the matching of facial images. The project is called “Next generation Prüm” (Prüm.ng) and goes back to a feasibility study ordered by the EU Commission from the consulting firm Deloitte.
The governments of the member states have already agreed on the expansion with facial recognition, a corresponding legislative proposal of the EU Commission should be available by the end of the year after a follow-up assessment. The EU interior ministers want to use this time to also include data on firearms.
The EU arms register is intended to support the fight against “terrorism, violent extremism, serious and organised crime”. The focus is on the illegal trade in firearms and greater control of their “movement”. Whenever law enforcement agencies come across a weapon in investigations, the register is to be automatically queried.
This will be done via a firearms contact point, which each member state is to have set up according to a specification by the “European Firearms Experts”. The EU Commission is currently examining which member states have already implemented this.
Information systems at Interpol
Firearms are already recorded in various international databases, but only if they have been seized, reported stolen or missing. In Europe, law enforcement authorities use the Schengen Information System (SIS II) or the Europol Information System (EIS) for this purpose. Worldwide networking takes place via the “Illicit Arms Records and Tracing Management System” (iARMS) at Interpol.
The international police organisation also maintains a database for the identification of firearms and a network in which investigators can exchange ballistic information. It is collected within the forensic examination of crime scenes, weapons and ammunition. For example, the deformation of projectiles can be used to draw conclusions about the firearms used.
Such a network is also to be created at EU level. Police forces from France, Spain and Germany are currently involved in an EU project that aims to establish a uniform technical standard for networking the national “Automated Ballistic Identification Systems” (ABIS).
Mutual query of police records
In its proposal for a decentralised European arms register, the Portuguese Council Presidency refers to Conclusions on a “European Police Partnership” adopted by the Member States in December under the German Presidency. According to these, European police officers should be able to access any information they deem necessary not only in their own country, but also in other member states. With regard to the Prüm framework, it states that it should be “reviewed and updated, where appropriate”.
Council Conclusions are, as usual, first a political declaration of intent by EU ministers. They are then used to justify legislative procedures.
For example, EU governments want to set up a “European Police Records Information System” (EPRIS), which would allow all EU police authorities to consult each other’s police files. This could also be done in the Prüm framework according to the “European Police Partnership”.
Discussion in Council working groups
The discussion paper first invites member states to state their position on the foreseen EU firearms database. The views and comments will then be discussed in the relevant Council bodies. As things stand at present, the Council Working Party on Law Enforcement (LEWP) and then the Council Working Party on the Exchange of Information in the field of Justice and Home Affairs (IXIM) are supposed to deal with it.
There, however, the proposal is likely to meet with controversy, because it was shelved after the Deloitte study had already recommended this. The reason given is that “as other solutions are already in place” for the exchange of data on firearms.
Because delays in the discussion process for the new initiative are therefore to be expected, it could be separated from the renewal of the Prüm framework. It would then also be conceivable that the EU ministers propose a central register instead of networking the national ones.