Internal security in the EU: „Moving from data collection to data connection“

The European Union intends to further strengthen operational cooperation and exchange of information between police authorities. The focus will be on upgrading Europol, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

According to a paper by the Romanian government, Europol’s mandate and capabilities should be further strengthened. The police agency will therefore be developed into a „law enforcement information hub“.

The proposal was made within the framework of the EU Council Presidency, which Romania held in the first half of the year. Since 1 July, the European Union has been led by Finland, where the issues are dealt with further.

More databases connected to „interoperability model“

One of the major innovations of recent years has been the adoption of a regulation on the „interoperability of databases“. Existing biometric systems will be partially merged and queried via a uniform search mask. All existing biometric data will end up in a „common identity repository“.

In the next step, further EU databases could be connected to the „interoperability model“. The Romanian Council Presidency mentions customs databases, for example. Similar to the Schengen Information System (SIS), the national customs authorities operate a Customs Information System (CIS) which can be used to query data in other Member States or to ask local authorities to take action against certain persons. This includes, for example, open or covert controls.

„Moving from data collection to data connection“

The proposal would also integrate decentralised systems into the „interoperability model“. The Romanian Presidency paper describes this as „moving from data collection to data connection“. Among other things, the Prüm Treaty is mentioned. All Member States of the European Union agreed there to allow mutual consultation of national fingerprint and DNA databases. Norway and Iceland are also taking part, and Switzerland recently also decided to join.

The European Union is also examining cross-border networking of police files. This would allow investigating authorities in other Member States to query whether information on suspects or defendants is available at a police authority. The investigators proceed according to the „hit/no hit procedure“: Consultant authorities cannot directly access data in another country, but they can inquire whether there is any information on specific individuals.

Passenger and financial data

The Romanian government’s proposals also include extending the „interoperability model“ to include financial investigation tools. In the SWIFT agreement, for example, EU governments exchange details of accounts and financial transactions with US authorities. The data is then passed on via Europol and analysed in the USA.

Passenger data are also mentioned. Three years ago, the European Union adopted a directive on the use of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data. When booking and boarding, airlines have to transmit extensive personal data to the competent authorities of the country of destination. There they will be cross-checked with national databases. The new system will facilitate the „prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences and serious crime“.

Data from „private operators“

Europol could obtain further data from „private operators“. The Romanian proposal does not contain details on this, but ideas are circulating at EU level on the use of passenger data from bus and train journeys or cruises.

Finally, Europol should also use data collected by Frontex at the external borders. With the amendment of the Frontex Regulation of 2016, the Border Agency is also entitled to process personal data. When asylum seekers are registered in the so-called „hotspots“ in Greece and Italy, Frontex may, for example, enter personal data and fingerprints in national, European and international police databases or compare them with these systems.

Problem: Too much data

The police is facing the problem that they now collect more information than their systems can process. They complain about an „unprecedented growth in the types and volume of data that are available to authorities“. This also applies to Europol, the police agency. Another priority is therefore to improve the analysis of the data.

Europol will be equipped with new analytical capacities, including decoding and digital forensics, monitoring of Darknet and the use of artificial intelligence. Other priorities include “ predictive policing“. With regard to technology, this means the forecasting of burglaries or other criminal acts.

Artificial intelligence, quantum computers, 5G interception

On the 20th anniversary of the creation of Europol, the Agency hosted today in The Hague for the first time a meeting of the Standing Committee on Operational Cooperation in the Field of Internal Security (COSI). Senior officials from the Ministries of the Interior and Justice of all EU Member States meet there regularly. The Commission, the Foreign Service and other agencies also take part.

The meeting took place on the occasion of Finland’s take-over of the EU Council Presidency and served to prepare the next meeting of EU interior ministers, which will take place in Helsinki on 18 July. To introduce the meeting, the Europol Director spoke about the current „criminal landscape“ and described new challenges for law enforcement. She mentioned advances in artificial intelligence, quantum computers, 5G interception, crypto currencies, 3D printing and biotechnology.

Support from the BKA

The Finnish Presidency of the Council will presumably follow on from the discussion paper from Romania. It talks about a „joint innovation laboratory“ at Europol. Europol could procure new equipment, which would be made available to Member States as required. Europol is already investing, for example, in equipment for decoding telecommunications.

The German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) has also pledged its support for the „innovation laboratory“. This is primarily concerned with digital forensics. At a meeting four weeks ago, the authorities agreed to exchange information and experience and to network the experts. The BKA also wants to make its technology available to Europol for the digital evaluation of data and data storage.

This is how the EU works

The Romanian proposal does not initially have any consequences. Such discussion papers serve, however, to initiate processes spanning several years. This is followed by opinions from the agencies or Commission papers, on the basis of which the Council adopts conclusions. In there, the EU Commission will be called to submit feasibility studies and to draw up proposals for directives or regulations. These are then discussed and adopted by the Council and Parliament.

In any case, the carpet for improved evaluation of digital data has been rolled out. Before the summer holidays, the EU Member States adopted conclusions on „Novel Actionable Information“. Europol is to present a proposal by the end of this year on how “ experts, tools, initiatives and services in the area of digital data“ can be networked and strengthened. The interior ministers will then discuss this, and the ball will then be in the Commission’s court.

Image: For the first time, Europol has organised a meeting of senior officials from the Ministries of the Interior and Justice of all EU Member States. Internal security for the next few years was on the agenda (all rights reserved Europol).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.