That Dáil Éireann approves the exercise by the State of the option or discretion under Protocol No. 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to take part in the adoption and application of the following proposed measure:
Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on automated data exchange for police cooperation ("Prüm II"), amending Council Decisions 2008/615/JHA and 2008/616/JHA and Regulations (EU) 2018/1726, 2019/817 and 2019/818 of the European Parliament and of the Council,
a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 1st February, 2022.
The Prüm decisions, which this proposal seeks to update and improve, represent a cornerstone of European law enforcement information exchange. The Prüm decisions enhanced the crime-fighting capacity of our law enforcement agencies while respecting data rights by enabling member states, on a hit, no hit basis, automatically to search the law enforcement DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration data of other member states with which they have established a Prüm connection. In our connected age, it is clear that peace, co-operation and effective law enforcement information exchange with our European partners are vital tools in our shared fight against crime.
Ireland put in several years of hard work and spent valuable resources on establishing our compliance with the Prüm decisions, which were transposed into Irish law via the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act of 2014 in respect of DNA and fingerprint co-operation, and the Vehicle Registration Data (Automated Searching and Exchange) Act of 2018. I know that if we were to choose not to opt into the new Prüm II proposal via either Article 3 or Article 4 of Protocol No. 21, we would not only miss out on the benefits of the new features contained in the proposal but our existing co-operation under the present Prüm decisions would come to an end. This is clearly not in the public interest and would undermine important measures to support public safety and security, weakening An Garda Síochána's capacity to respond to the increasingly dynamic criminal threats we face.
The new features of the proposal offer tangible improvements that Ireland should embrace. In respect of the new technical solution, the central router, this should greatly improve the breadth of our Prüm co-operation and the efficiency of that co-operation. At present, connections are made on a member state to member state basis, resulting in duplication of effort and expense. The central router will act as a message broker, and once connection is established with the central router, each member state will be connected to all other member states that have connected. Importantly, however, the central router will hold no data and member states will retain ownership and control of their own data.
The proposal also seeks to enhance co-operation by expanding the categories of data currently amenable to Prüm, namely, DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration data, to include facial images and police records. With regard to facial images, I believe Ireland should support this extension. Identification of criminals is of vital importance for any successful criminal investigation and prosecution. There are occasions when the only lead captured in respect of a crime is an image of a suspect from a nearby security camera. An Garda Síochána has indicated in respect of a recent high-profile murder that had the awful crime been committed in a city rather than a relatively small town, it would almost certainly not have been able to identify the perpetrator through CCTV without the use of facial recognition.
The proposal also seeks to expand Prüm co-operation to police records as part of the European police records index system. I note this element of the proposal is optional for member states, so opting in to the proposal does not bind us to engage in this form of co-operation. I believe we should opt in to the Prüm proposal so that this option of extending our co-operation to police records remains open to Ireland. Should we fail to opt in, we will not be able to decide in future that we would like to take advantage of this new means of police co-operation. It is also worth noting that while today the exchange of police records is possible, there is no efficient procedure to do so. The automation of the proposed system, finding out whether relevant information exists in another member state or does not, would reduce the need for manual work and save resources. In case the automated search yields no results, competent law enforcement authorities will not have to process the request and retrieve the information, thereby saving time and resources and better respecting data protection rights. An Garda Síochána was part of the European police records index system, EPRIS, pilot project, the success of which has led to the inclusion of this new feature in the Prüm proposal.
The proposal will also bring Europol and the data the European law enforcement agency holds within the ambit of Prüm information exchange. This will allow member states to perform automated searches on a hit, no hit basis of third country data held by Europol, and Europol to check third country source data against the national databases of member states. Importantly, Europol's participation in Prüm will be in accordance with and subject to the data protection measures in Europol regulation.
Fighting crime and effectively utilising the technology and data available to do so is in the public interest. However, there is also a strong public interest in ensuring data rights are upheld and data protection measures are sufficient. Importantly, under Prüm II, processing of data will be limited to the extent necessary to achieve its purpose.
It allows for the comparison of data only on a case-by-case basis, and there is no fully automated exchange. The searching is conducted in an automated manner but expert verification is required to confirm a match before any personal data can be exchanged. The exchange of facial images will not entail the possibility of live facial recognition screening of a large number of persons in public spaces, and there is no envisaged use of artificial intelligence for the comparison of facial images.
The costs arising from our participation in respect of this proposal are difficult to calculate, but the European Commission has produced estimates that appear reasonable. The costs must be considered in light of the importance of fighting crime and ensuring public safety and security.
The Department of Justice, in conjunction with An Garda Síochána and Forensic Science Ireland, is beginning a project to address the required upgrades to Ireland's automated fingerprint identification system, AFIS. There is an opportunity to combine the needed upgrade work with the technical adaptions that arise from the Prüm II proposal. Ireland benefits from the Prüm-based information exchange to date. Participation in these measures is a demonstration to our European partners that we intend to play our part responsibly in fighting crime and ensuring safety for Irish and other European citizens. It is not only our partners who will be interested in seeing whether Ireland continues to participate in these important police co-operation measures, because the criminal elements in our society and across Europe will be ready and willing to exploit any gap in co-operation should we allow it to emerge. The Government has no hesitation in commending the motion proposing that we opt in. The Office of the Attorney General has advised that opting in via Article 3 is in order and is in fact the prudent course of action. Ireland can support the measures contained within and should opt into the proposal. I commend the motion to the House.