Germany, US agree on data exchange to counter terrorism
The groundbreaking agreement is to serve as model for deals with other EU members.
Berlin -- US and German ministers agreed to facilitate the automatic exchange of data on suspected terrorists Tuesday in a groundbreaking agreement intended to serve as a blueprint for similar accords between the US and other European countries.
US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Attorney General Michael Mukasey initialed the agreement in Berlin with their German counterparts, Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries.
"It ensures that as terrorists and criminals cross international boundaries we can connect the dots to pursue them and capture them, and that we can disrupt plots before they are carried out," Chertoff said.
Mukasey said talks were underway with other members of the European Union, describing the agreement as a "wonderful model" for further bilateral deals. The attorney general heads to Brussels for talks later this week.
The two sides agreed on the wide-ranging exchange of information, including the fingerprints and DNA of suspects, although the transfer of DNA data will depend on the implementation of the necessary legal and technical framework in the US.
"This is an important step to effectively combat serious crime, especially international terrorism," Schaeuble said, introducing the agreement.
Mukasey lauded the "substantial" cooperation between Germany and the US on law enforcement and counter-terrorism, saying it had brought greater security to the citizens of both countries.
The agreement was a "great achievement" that provided an "important new tools to fight transnational crime," he said.
Mukasey stressed the agreement contained "appropriate protection of personal data."
"This agreement may serve as a model for similar bilateral instruments with other European Union member states in the very near future," he said.
Chertoff said the US and its allies had to respond with "global networks" to combat "a networked international enemy."
Greater information-sharing was a "critical tool in this fight," he said, while stressing the need to ensure "robust privacy protection," which he described as a hallmark of the US and German democracies.
Mukasey said that in the field of DNA databases, the US was "working to catch up" with Germany and other EU countries.
Schaeuble rejected criticism from the federal German data protection commissioner on the dangers of transferring data to the US, saying that, as in the case with DNA databases, US data protection provisions were often stronger than those in Germany.
The commissioner, Peter Schaar, expressed his reservations in an interview with national public radio Deutschlandfunk earlier Tuesday.
US data protection legislation covered only US citizens and "expressly not data from abroad," he said.
A statement released on the agreement said it was accompanied by data protection provisions, including rules on permissible use and confidential treatment of information, correction of errors and destruction of data no longer needed.
The automatic exchange of fingerprints and DNA is to take place under a so-called "Hit/No-Hit" procedure, along the lines of the Pruem Convention agreed by seven European Union nations in 2005.
This allows states limited access to the national fingerprint and DNA databases of other participating states for use in automatic comparison tests.
In the event of a hit, the state in question provides other data, such as name and address, although only after formal legal application.
"There is no automated exchange of information as such, but only an automated exchange of information on whether there is information available or not - this is the hit/no-hit procedure," Schaeuble said.
He said he hoped the agreement would be ratified on the German side before the end of next year.
The Pruem Convention, also known as Schengen III, came into force in May 2005, following the Madrid train bombings in March the previous year. Apart from Germany, Austria, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Spain are signatories.
DPA with Expatica