EU welcomes UK move to share criminal suspects’ DNA data

Britain’s chances of remaining part of European data-sharing arrangements to fight serious crime have improved after the UK government accepted EU demands to share more information, European diplomats said.

The UK government confirmed last week that it was willing to start sharing criminal suspects’ DNA data with other European countries, responding to complaints that Britain has benefited from EU cross-border data sharing while failing to show full reciprocity.

The tensions arose because of Britain’s policy of sharing DNA data of convicted criminals but not of criminal suspects, while EU member states share both. The information-exchange is part of the EU’s so-called Prüm arrangements for cross-border access to European DNA, vehicle licence plate and fingerprint databases.

The EU warned last year that UK access to DNA data could be halted before the end of Britain’s post-Brexit transition period unless the lopsided arrangements were fixed. It handed Britain a June 15 deadline to clarify its position.

But the UK’s minister of state for security, James Brokenshire, confirmed last week that Britain was prepared to expand its information sharing, saying that Prüm had been valuable in the fight against serious crime. 

“An unidentified crime stain from a sexual assault in Glasgow in 2012 was identified as a subject convicted for theft offences in Austria and that investigation is now being progressed in [a] way that would not have been possible were it not for the Prüm exchange,” he told parliament on June 15, saying it was just one example of the scheme’s benefits.

EU diplomats welcomed the UK move on Monday, noting that a potentially imminent breakdown in information sharing had been averted.

Diplomats also expect the UK’s step to aid continuing discussions between the EU and UK over security co-operation after Britain’s post-Brexit transition period expires at the end of this year.

A political declaration on future relations, agreed by Boris Johnson and EU leaders last year, commits both sides to seek a future security partnership with “reciprocal arrangements for timely, effective and efficient exchanges” of data, including in the areas covered by the Prüm arrangements.

But EU diplomats caution that key disagreements remain to be resolved before the security chapter of the future-relationship talks can be settled, including Britain’s entrenched opposition to any oversight role for the European Court of Justice.

“The UK’s connection to Prüm has led to tens of thousands of DNA profiles being matched and has supported UK law enforcement investigations of serious crimes, including rapes and murders,” said a UK government spokesperson. “The exchange of suspects’ data with EU member states benefits our law enforcement agencies, strengthens operational co-operation, and enhances the safety of all our citizens.”

The future-relationship talks are set to intensify from next week.