Encrypted communication: UK remains member of EU interception group

Despite Brexit, British police can influence surveillance laws in the EU. The country is also represented in European secret service circles.

Notwithstanding its exit from the European Union, the British police will remain a member of a Standing Heads of Lawful Interception Units based at Europol. The UK is represented there by the National Crime Agency. This was confirmed by the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, in her answer to a parlamentary question by the pirate Patrick Breyer. The UK is thus the only third country in the group, which otherwise consists exclusively of EU members and the Schengen states Norway, Switzerland and Iceland.

The working group of the departments on telecommunications surveillance had once been founded as a strategic „5G Expert Group“ on the initiative of the German Federal Criminal Police Office. It was supposed to give the authorities access to the new telephone standard, which was actually tap-proof. After this was successfully pushed through in the European and international standardisation bodies ETSI and 3GPP, the group was given a new name and new tasks in October 2021. It is now to ensure that the needs of law enforcement agencies are taken into account when amending surveillance laws at EU level and in the member states.

German initiative

The proposal to expand the mandate of the Interception Working Group came from the German Federal Ministry of the Interior during the EU Presidency in the second half of 2020, with the aim of improving operational capabilities in member states. The decision to reshape the group was finally taken at the informal meeting of European police chiefs, which Europol invites to every year.

Politically, the network reports to the Council Working Group on Law Enforcement, in which the interior ministries of the Schengen states are organised. Europol is to support their work with studies and research on the interception of digital communications. The first meeting of the group was planned in Hamburg.

Police and secret service cooperation with Great Britain

Continued close police cooperation with Great Britain is possible through the Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU. This sets out forms of cooperation to prevent and combat serious crime, terrorism and other forms of crime for which Europol is responsible.

The UK Home Office also remains a member of the G6 group, in which the interior ministers of the six most populous EU member states have been organised for almost 20 years. In addition, the country participates in the informal Police Working Group on Terrorism, in which state security departments of all Schengen states network. Finally, despite Brexit, the British domestic service MI5 also remains a member of the European secret service circle Berne Club and its Counter Terrorism Group.

Image: Meeting of the European Police Chief Convention in 2021, which decided upon the new tasks of the group (Europol).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

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