EU to tighten terror net by sharing more data

A European Union flag flying near the Elizabeth Tower, otherwise known as Big Ben, in London on Feb 20, 2017.
A European Union flag flying near the Elizabeth Tower, otherwise known as Big Ben, in London on Feb 20, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

STRASBOURG, France (AFP) - The EU unveiled plans on Tuesday (Dec 12) to streamline information-sharing across the bloc to reduce chances that a terrorist with multiple identities will slip through the net as happened in a series of attacks on the continent.

The European Union proposed the system to replace one where police officers, border guards and others cannot access data stored in unconnected computer systems.

"Terrorists and serious criminals should not be able to slip through the net," EU Security Commissioner Julian King said, adding the aim was to remove "blind spots" exploited by terrorists.

"This is an ambitious new approach to managing and using existing information: more intelligent and targeted, clamping down on multiple identities and reinforcing effective police checks," King added.

Border guards or police officers will be able to simultaneously search multiple EU information systems to verify identity documents rather than have to decide which data base is best for a particular task.

They will also be able to use a shared service to match biometric data, such as fingerprints or facial images, with names and other biographical information for non-EU citizens.

The service will allow officers to flag cases of multiple identities if several aliases come up with the same set of fingerprints.

However, a senior EU official told AFP the streamlined system will not be a "magic bullet," but will rather reduce the space in which a terrorist can carry out an attack.

A year ago, Tunisian asylum seeker Anis Amri slipped through the net and rammed a truck into a crowded Christmas market in the German capital, killing 12 people.

Officials admitted later a series of security failures that allowed Amri to register under multiple identities and evade authorities while he was in contact with Islamist militants.

Two other attacks in Paris and the southern French port of Marseille in the last year were also carried out by perpetrators using multiple identities, EU officials said.

The new proposals are part of several EU security initiatives to defend against a wave of attacks in European capitals and cities, in which more than 200 people have been killed in the last two years.

EU officials said the latest proposals, which must be approved by the member states and the European Parliament, will ensure the highest data protection standards and full respect of fundamental rights.

EU officials said they hoped at least part of the system will become operational next year.