Hammarberg criticizes draft Belgian decree on Rules for the Processing of Personal Data and Information by the police

Read the Report by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg,on his visit to Belgium 15-19 December 2008 here.
145. During his visit, the Commissioner was informed of a draft royal decree on police files. The purpose of the decree is to allow local and federal police officers to collect, process and store personal data, including “physical and psychological” details, “consumption habits”, “political and religious opinions” and “sexual orientation”. Through this measure, the Government is seeking to enhance and expand its efforts to combat and prevent terrorism. For the last decade, the police have been entering information about Belgian citizens into the nationwide general data bank set up under the 1998 Police Reform Act. The royal decree sets out to regulate such data banks. It has been hotly debated, including within the Federal Parliament. Criticisms of the text related mainly to its lack of clarity, the irrelevance of some data, the lack of protection for minors, the lack of effective monitoring mechanisms and the fact that citizens would not have access to the data.

146. The Commissioner fully acknowledges the need to collect and process data essential to the prevention of terrorist activities. However, bearing in mind the high error rate of preventive investigations, legislation in this area must be as detailed as possible in its definition of the criteria for entering a person into an anti-terrorist data base and in its determination of the use of such data bases. The Commissioner notes that it is essential to strike a balance between the fight against terrorism, and the broader fight against crime, and individuals’ right to protection against intrusions into their privacy and against the improper collection, storage, sharing and use of data concerning them. An independent assessment of the use and impact of such data bases must be carried out in order to ensure that they are necessary and proportionate. The Commissioner recommends that the authorities make sure that the restrictions placed on the rights of the defence and the rights to respect for privacy and protection of personal data, in the name of the detection and prevention of terrorist activities and the fight against crime, are necessary, appropriate, proportionate and provided for by law.

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