Select Committee on European Union Twenty-Third Report



By the Select Committee appointed to consider Community proposals, whether in draft or otherwise, to obtain all necessary information about them, and to make reports on those which, in the opinion of the Committee, raise important questions of policy or principle, and on other questions to which the Committee considers that the special attention of the House should be drawn.




1. Computer databases and computer networks are playing an increasingly important role in all of our lives. The rapid development of computer software, and the falling prices of computer hardware, have made it possible to store, analyse and disseminate large quantities of information at speeds that would have been unthinkable even ten years ago.

2. But these developments, while undoubtedly bringing benefits to the citizen, also raise many questions. How does information reach these databases? Who has access to it? What right has the citizen to check and, if necessary, to correct data held about himself or herself? What links exist between databases? How vulnerable are large networks to "hacking" or corruption? These questions are of particular importance in the field of justice and home affairs, where information held may directly affect citizens' rights to liberty or free movement.

3. Four major EU databases are in existence, or are to be established in the near future. They appear to be little known. The first aim of our Report is, therefore, to make available the basic facts about these databases (see paragraphs 6-8 below, and Table 1). We then summarise (in Part 2) the evidence we heard on the issues raised in paragraph 2 above; links between the databases; links to existing formal and informal information networks; the data protection provisions of each database; and citizens' rights to check and correct the data held.

4. Our opinion, set out in Part 3, is necessarily provisional. Of the four databases we consider, only two are operational at present, and there is little direct evidence either of advantages flowing from the use of these databases, or of potential problems which might arise. Therefore Part 3, rather than seeking to draw firm conclusions at this stage, identifies important issues which are unresolved, or which need to be addressed further.

5. The enquiry was carried out by Sub-Committee F (Social Affairs, Education and Home Affairs), whose members are listed in Appendix 1. The Sub-Committee received written and oral evidence from the witnesses listed in Appendix 2. They wish to express their thanks to the witnesses, who provided detailed and thoughtful evidence in this specialised field.


6. The four databases with which this report is concerned are:-

    The Customs Information System (CIS), divided into a "First Pillar" database (CIS 1), containing information relating to offences against EC Customs legislation, and a "Third Pillar" database (CIS 3), based on an Inter-governmental Convention, and containing information relating to cross-border criminal activity (e.g. money laundering).

    The Schengen Information System (SIS), containing information aimed at (a) combating trans-frontier crime, and (b) the application of the Schengen Convention's provisions on free movement of persons[1].

    The Europol database, containing data and analysis files relating to serious trans-frontier crime.

    The Eurodac database, which will contain personal data, including fingerprints, to be used exclusively for deciding which Member State is responsible, under the Dublin Convention, for examining an asylum application.

7. The four databases are described in detail in memoranda submitted by the Home Office (pp 1 - 12), JUSTICE (pp 27 - 38), and Statewatch (pp 47 - 54). The reader is referred to those memoranda for complete information, but a summary is given in Table 1 opposite.

1   The UK is seeking to participate in all the Articles of the Schengen Convention relating to the SIS but has indicated that it does not intend to access or enter information on the SIS relating to the movement of persons. The Council, as part of its consideration of the UK application, has commissioned a study on the technical feasibility of limiting participation in the SIS. Back

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