After the successful launch of the Crossroads Bank for Social Security (http://ksz-bcss.fgov.be/En/CBSS.htm), the Belgian government has now introduced a similar back-office database for enterprises, with the aim of simplifying the administrative burden and increasing the efficiency of public services.
This new e-government initiative is named Crossroads Bank for Enterprises (law of 16 January 2003 creating a Crossroads Bank for Enterprises, Belgian State Gazette, 5 February 2003, hereafter referred to as "the Law"). It was officially launched on 1 July 2003 but not without significant technical problems which received a lot of media coverage.
1. A unique identifying number for all enterprises
To enable the exchange of the information contained in the Crossroads Bank database, it will work with a unique identifying number ("the enterprise number") for each registered enterprise. Upon registration with the Crossroads Bank, the unique identifying number will be provided to the following data subjects:
(1) legal persons incorporated under Belgian law;
(2) legal persons incorporated under foreign or international law but having a registered office in Belgium or otherwise legally required to register in Belgium;
(3) living individuals, legal persons and associations that either; (i) have a commercial activity in Belgium, or (ii) are submitted to Belgian social security obligations as an employer, or (ii) are submitted to Belgian VAT regulations, or (iv) are self-employed or exercise their commercial activities in Belgium.
Information on the data subjects will then be linked to the unique identifying number, e.g. name, legal form, directors, permits, references to balance sheets, etc.
Once the legally required enterprise information of the data subject is registered, public services may no longer request such information from the data subject: it must be obtained through the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises (Article 22 of the Law).
2. Access to the information of the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises
The information contained in the Crossroads Bank database will be partly freely accessible and partly accessible upon authorisation (by the supervisory committee) only, depending on the type of information that is requested.
Authorisation to access the information may be granted to (i) public services to the extent necessary for the fulfilment of their tasks, and (ii) other entities on the condition that the information is required for a justified purpose that is explicitly defined and that prevails the interests or the fundamental rights of the relevant data subject.
Freely accessible information can be obtained by demanding extracts of the information at specific Business One-Stop Shops or via the Internet.
The Law further provides the possibility for commercial use of the information contained in the database, but a Royal Decree is needed to fix the details of such use.
3. Protection of the data contained in the Crossroads Bank database
The Crossroads Bank database can and will contain sensitive data (also on living individuals) and specific protection of such data will thus be required.
As the database is operated electronically, Belgian legislation on cyber-crime will apply to any unauthorised access or modification of the data.
Persons involved in transactions with the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises are bound by a professional duty of secrecy. Breach of such duty is a punishable offence under Belgian criminal law. These persons are also bound by a more general obligation to take all necessary precautions.
With the (partial) entry into force of the legislation regarding the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises, the Belgian government has created a second and important back-office for the development of its e-government policy. Once it is fully operational, the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises will be a more than welcome tool for the management of company information in Belgium.