New Technologies: Europol sets up an „Innovation Laboratory“

The EU interior ministers want to respond to the „challenges and opportunities“ of new technologies. The focus is on 5G networks, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, drones, 3D printing and improved decryption.

The Europol Police Agency will focus more on new technologies in the field of internal security. To this end, Europol will set up an „Innovation Laboratory“ to look for new ways of intercepting, decrypting and monitoring. This was decided unanimously by the European Interior Ministers at their last Council meeting at the beginning of October.

The new centre will take a „proactive approach“ and analyse new products and processes before they come onto the market. At present, however, the focus is on equipment that is already available, including 3D printers for manufacture weapons. The „Innovation Laboratory“ also deals with the „Internet of Things“. It deals with „challenges and opportunities“, i.e. the criminal use of technologies and their potential use for law enforcement.

„Disruptive technologies“

Europol will also conduct research into the use of robotics and the defence against drones. In a paper, Europol talk about „disruptive technologies“. The term has been used since the Council, the EU Commission and Parliament met in France for a corresponding conference. The Finnish Council Presidency also counts biotechnologies as „disruptive technologies“, including the manipulation of biometric features such as DNA or fingerprints and so-called morphing.

The „Innovation Laboratory“ is to build on existing departments at Europol. Its areas of responsibility include the police handling of anonymisation and encryption on the Internet and Darknet. Europol has already set up a „decryption platform“ for this purpose, which is being funded by the EU Commission with 5 million euros. Europol is researching the use of quantum computers that could be used for artificial intelligence applications within the framework of the „Innovation Laboratory“.

The „Innovation Laboratory“ will also be responsible for the search for methods for intercepting the 5G mobile radio networks, which are by default interception-proof. Europol has already organised several „expert meetings“ on this subject.

Integration of existing networks

At one of the next meetings of the interior ministers, details of the „Innovation Laboratory“ are to be finally decided. Before that, the interior ministries of the member states will have to comment on possible tasks and goals. The areas could even be extended, for example to the automation of information exchange as currently being developed by the German Federal Criminal Police Office, so-called „predictive policing“ or procedures for facial and number plate recognition.

According to the plans, the „Innovation Laboratory“ could integrate other existing structures, including the ENLETS network, which is researching new law enforcement technologies for the Council.

ENLETS is part of the Council Working Group on Law Enforcement, which is also responsible for setting up the Innovation Laboratory at Europol. With the „Joint Research Centre“, the Commission also operates an institution which evaluates technologies and examines their use for border controls or law enforcement.

„Dialogue“ with the private sector

The new „Innovation Laboratory“ is to cooperate with Internet companies, banks and other financial service providers. The interior ministers speak of a „dialogue“ that is to be „intensified“. Under the Finnish Presidency, the Council Working Group on Law Enforcement had already invited several companies to a meeting in July. In order to exchange personal data with banks, the Europol Regulation is to be amended next year.

A year ago, Europol outlined in its „Strategy 2020+“ that it wants to centralise police research. So far, however, it is unclear how the „Innovation Laboratory“ will be financed. In the coming months, the European Union will decide on the Multiannual Financial Framework that will determine the budget of the Commission and its agencies until 2027.

Image: Europol in The Hague (OSeveno, CC-BY-SA-3.0).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

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