By Kyra Ward,
Editor, Economics Student
March 29th, 2017 will go down in history as the day the United Kingdom (UK) officially left the European Union (EU), and the European experiment. While it will take two years to finalize negotiations, March 29th will mark the day that Brexit (Britain’s Exit) became official. No matter how Brexit plays out, the UK and the EU will need to continue cooperation given their geographical proximity and the interconnectedness of their economies. The question at the forefront of this transition is: how much will Brexit affect the relationship across the channel? And more specifically what will Brexit mean for the future of information sharing between the UK and the EU.
There is a question of whether Brexit will be a hard or soft split from the EU. The negotiations between the UK and the EU will determine the future of their cooperation and relationship. There is a possibility of the UK completely divorcing from the EU’s framework and institutions, and replacing all their current involvement in the EU with bi-lateral treaties with certain states. However, being a part of some of these security institutions is crucial when looking at the future of information sharing between the two powers.
Two of the main information sharing institutions that would affect the UK and the EU in the case of a hard Brexit would be: the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS) and Prüm. These comprise a large part of the EU’s security framework for dealing with criminal activity and terrorists. The UK’s involvement in these institutions make them integral to current UK security strategy. While there are many other institutions that the UK must consider in terms of its future cooperation with the EU, understanding and analyzing these two can begin to show the messy logistics of a post-Brexit UK and its far-reaching implications for all European security.
The ECRIS was created to detect crime, provide evidence for criminal proceedings and create a precedent for appropriate sentencing. The only reason ECRIS functionally works while still respecting people’s fundamental rights has been because of its consideration and application of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Without the parameters of the ECHR the scope, and invasion of privacy of the ECRIS can quickly be blown out of proportion allowing for hostile influence of the government in people’s day to day lives.
This represents a two-fold problem to the UK after Brexit. The first is whether the UK will remain privy to the information that exists through the ECRIS. Second, whether the UK can maintain the level of standards of using the ECRIS without being a part of the European Court of Justice and the ECHR.
ECRIS is currently a highly utilized institution in the interest of UK security. Before ECRIS the UK would just consult member states on an ad hoc basis once a suspicion about a certain citizen was raised, however, this allows the criminals to commit again before they are suspected. With the implementation of ECRIS criminals are flagged upon entrance and therefore are much less likely to be able to reoffend.
The benefits of ECRIS can be understood from a purely practical security framework. Being a part of the ECRIS without following the guidelines of the ECHR creates a significant privacy problem for the UK. While there remains a standard on appropriate action towards a citizen with a previous criminal record throughout the EU, the UK will no longer be constrained by such guidelines. The use of this information in the name of security could be used to justify a violation of people’s rights with no repercussions. ECRIS, thus, transforms from being a helpful information sharing institution into a weapon against people with criminal histories in an unjust and unfair way. It is necessary for the UK in their negotiations to remaining a part of the ECRIS system while also adhering to the guidelines set out by the ECHR.
Prüm is another information sharing institution whose limits are kept in check by the UNHCR. Prüm is a forensic biometric sharing cooperation program that collects DNA and fingerprints across member states of the European Economic Area and the European Union. It’s used to track people from different crime scenes in multiple member states thus formulating a connection between instigators in people involved in large scale crime. Prüm is also used to create dialogue between police jurisdictions and judicial rulings through creating a legal basis so that countries no longer act on a case by case basis. It is important to note that the report stating the importance of Prüm makes it very clear that there will be no great tangible increase in national crime or security threat. Rather these are precautionary measures that also enforce cooperation between the two areas and create a framework for continuity in security protocol.
One of the biggest dangers of re-creating a forensic database is the security involved in keeping the information private. The idea of the government having your fingerprints and DNA may be an unsettling one, but the record of this material makes it also available to being hacked by cyber criminals. This causes a huge problem of potential wide scale identity theft. Prüm has the compliance and work of all the best EU cyber experts, when the UK leaves this framework, they also leave the greater security that it provides.
Brexit is going to be a difficult process with many changes. Both the UK and EU risk future vulnerability in terms of decreased security and future inefficiency if they allow security processes to be considered in the infighting in this divorce process. The UK should reinstate its dedication to European security and its institutions as well as continuing to comply with the existing framework of the ECHR to maintain its status in the many security institutions it is invested in.
Featured image by Bankenverband/Flickr