US and Belgium to share biometric data on criminals, terrorists

Thu, 2011-09-22 07:47 AM
By: Mark Rockwell

The United States and Belgium agreed on Sept. 20 to share biometric and biographical information to prevent terrorists and serious criminals from continuing their activities internationally.

The agreement on Preventing and Combating Serious Crime (PCSC) is the twentieth signed with a foreign country to prevent such activity, said the U.S. Department of Justice.

The agreement was signed by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Belgian Minister of Justice Stefaan De Clerck and Minister of Interior Annemie Turtelboom in Belgium. Holder took great pains to explain individual privacies under the agreement would not be compromised. The agreement allows for the exchange of biometric and biographic data of suspected criminals between the U.S. and Belgium to bolster counterterrorism and law enforcement efforts while protecting individual privacy, said the DOJ.

Under the agreement, said the agency, Belgium and the U.S. will leverage state-of-the-art technology to share law enforcement data, including fingerprints, to better identify known terrorist and criminals during investigations and other law enforcement activities. The agreement authorizes the use of specific mechanisms for sharing vital information to help prevent serious threats to public security, and requires measures to ensure the protection and privacy of citizens in both countries, said the department. The PCSC contains numerous provisions pertaining to the handling, sharing, and retention of relevant data, all designed to ensure privacy and data protection, it said.

According to the DOJ, Belgium joins Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Spain, Estonia, Greece and South Korea who have all signed similar agreements, said the department. The agreements are negotiated by the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice and State and are aimed at preventing individuals who commit serious crimes in one signatory country from continuing illicit acts in another, and reaffirm the strong commitment of the United States to reciprocal partnerships that advance the safety and security of the United States and its allies, according to DOJ.

European governments have expressed concern over privacy rights in sharing information with US law enforcement agencies in the past. In remarks to the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs in Belgium on Sept. 20, Holder addressed those concerns again.

“We now have before us an opportunity – an opportunity to further advance our joint commitment to working together to fight crime and terrorism, while also protecting civil liberties and personal privacy. We can do so by extending the proven data protection provisions in the US/EU Europol, Eurojust, and Mutual Legal Assistance Agreements across the full range of law enforcement sharing between the U.S. and EU Member States,