New database at Eurojust: Who’s a terrorist?

The EU has a Criminal Record Information System since 2012, but last week a second database was introduced only for „terrorist threats“. Its added value is unclear and may be the search for „interconnections“. The system also includes „right-wing and left-wing extremist groups“ in Europe.

Last week, the European Union set up another information system on „terrorist threats“. Since 1 September, data from criminal procedures can be stored in a „Judicial Counter-Terrorism Register“ (CTR). The database is maintained by Eurojust, the judicial authority of the European Union based in The Hague. The Agency is responsible for judicial cooperation.

The creation of the new „Judicial Counter-Terrorism Register“ is an initiative of the governments of France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Past extensions of police information systems have mostly been justified by the increase in Islamist terrorism. However, the new anti-terror register will also cover „right-wing and left-wing extremist groups“ in Europe.

The competent national judicial authorities are now called upon to notify Eurojust accordingly. In addition to the personal data of the defendants, the data transmitted by default also include aliases, date of birth, offence and stage of proceedings. In addition, the file number and contact details of the competent public prosecutor’s office are to be stored. In the case of completed trials, the judgment, a summary of the facts and the terrorist phenomenon area are added. The entry should also indicate whether European letters rogatory have already been used.

Search for „interconnections“

All data are centrally stored in a case management system at Eurojust. If a member state searches in the system, a notification is first made using the hit/no hit procedure. If there is an indication, the member state concerned may request the release of the deposited information. Upon request, Eurojust offers „strategic and tactical meetings“ in which the authorities are „provided with case-by-case advice in the field of terrorism“.

However, the CTR is not only available for consultation by the member state. Eurojust offers „proactive support“ to national judicial authorities. The information collected is searched and cross-checked. If Eurojust finds a match, such as similar investigations or convictions, the competent public prosecutor’s office is informed. In this way, Eurojust aims to identify „persons and groups“ who are „under investigation in cases with a potential cross-border dimension“.

The deletion of their data will be decided by the respective governments, which organise themselves in so-called „tables“ at Eurojust. The case management system reports when content has been stored for more than three years and suggests a review. The European Data Protection Supervisor together with the data protection officers of the member states should assure that Eurojust and the national judicial authorities comply with the rules.

EU already has criminal records system

Actually, the „Judicial Counter-Terrorism Register“ is not a new database. This is also confirmed by the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, which writes that it is a more consistent implementation of an existing obligation for Member States to transmit data. The underlying decision dates back to 2005, but by 2018 Eurojust had only been informed of 580 cases by the national authorities. As a result, the pressure for the new register came not only from the European Commission, but also from the European Parliament’s special anti-terrorism committee set up two years ago.

It is also unclear how the „Judicial Counter-Terrorism Register“ differs from existing databases. As early as 2012, the EU launched the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS), which also contains information on previous convictions. According to a 2008 Framework Decision, the search for previous convictions in new criminal proceedings against the same person is actually mandatory. ECRIS is a decentralised system which also works in the hit/no hit procedure. It will be even more reliable than the Eurojust register in terms of standard formats and deadlines for transmission.

A year ago, the EU added a new function to ECRIS. Not only EU nationals, but also third-country nationals and stateless persons will be stored. This so-called ECRIS-TCN is a central database managed by the European Agency for large-scale IT systems. Both ECRIS systems also contain fingerprint data. Like all other biometric databases, the „Interoperability“ project is currently merging them into a „Common Identity Repository“.

Image: German police unions demand investigations into „terrorism“ in Rigaer Straße in Berlin. If they succeed, this would be a case for the new EU Justice Register (Oliver Feldhaus).