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Accuracy of Belgian police databases criticised in new report

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM: Illustration shows computer terminal and mainframe, in a Brussels federal police building. (BELGA PHOTO BENOIT DOPPAGNE)
06:59 01/06/2021

The accuracy and precision of police databases in Belgium still leave much to be desired, the Police Information Control Body (COC) noted in its annual report published on Monday. Three quarters of the requests from citizens for whom the COC issued a decision in 2020 resulted in the archiving or partial or complete deletion of entries in the General National Database.

In Belgium, citizens have the right to consult, correct or delete their personal data in police databases. The COC processes these applications, which is a significant part of its day-to-day operations.

The number of requests related to this has increased sharply in recent years, although the figures for 2020 were down on those recorded in 2019. Last year’s increase is still significant, with 284 cases recorded, almost twice as many as in 2018 when the former Commission for the Protection of Privacy received between 100 and 150 requests.

According to the COC's annual report, the decline between 2019 and 2020 is expected to be an anomaly, with more than 170 applications already submitted in the first quarter of 2021. The organisation believes that the temporary decrease in requests is the result of stabilisation after a peak caused by the increased attention paid to privacy issues.

Of the 259 files processed in 2020, 211 were linked to the general national database. For 144 of them, the COC carried out an assessment or came to a decision on the content of the files. In 76% of the applications that led to a decision, it resulted in the archiving or partial or total deletion of entries in the General National Database. The previous year, this happened with 52% of such files.

The Police Information Control Body therefore reiterates its call for "reflection and action" within the police directorate. "This is an alarming rate, which confirms what the control body found in the course of its work: the quality, accuracy and precision of police databases still leaves too much to be desired," the report stresses.

For the COC, this finding is not without consequences: citizens "suffer direct or indirect harm" because of incorrect processing of their data. This damage is direct when the police are led to treat citizens differently on the basis of false information, for example during a search or arrest. It is indirect when people are unjustifiably discriminated or rejected when applying for jobs which require a police check.

Written by Nick Amies