EU instead of EC: New directive facilitates cross-border data exchange

The 2006 „Swedish Initiative“ is being replaced by a new set of rules. This „Lisbonization“ of EU-wide information exchange comes with a uniform case management system and file format, and requires shorter deadlines for processing requests.

The European Union could soon adopt a new directive on information exchange between law enforcement agencies. The Commission had presented a proposal to this effect in December as part of its „Police Code“.

At the upcoming Council of Interior Ministers in Luxembourg on June 10, the member states want to decide their position vis-à-vis the Parliament. Then the so-called trilogue negotiations of the three EU legislative bodies can begin.

Copy to Europol

According to the proposal, the member states are to set up central offices for requests and transfers of data. These Single Points of Contacts (SPOCs) are to use a uniform case management system for improved information exchange.

Europol is also to be connected to this network. The police agency should receive a copy of the data whenever the crimes in question fall within its jurisdiction. The communication channel is also to be via Europol using the encrypted SIENA system.

The file format will also be standardized, according to the proposal. Authorities are to use the Universal Messenger Format in its third generation (UMF3). It was developed under the auspices of the German Federal Criminal Police Office by police authorities of several member states and is to be introduced in other information systems as well.

Treatment as exchange among domestic authorities

With the Framework Decision on the exchange of information under the principle of availability, the EU already has a legal setting for the exchange of data among member states. It was adopted in 2006 by the states of the then European Community under the Swedish Council Presidency and is therefore known as the „Swedish Initiative“.

In essence, both the framework decision and the now planned directive state that law enforcement officials of one member state can obtain from another member state any information they need for their work. The transfer to police and judicial authorities of other Member States is to be treated in the same way as exchanges between authorities within the country.

Among the most important innovations of the „Swedish Initiative“ was the observance of deadlines for responding to requests from other member states. In urgent cases, this was to be done within eight hours, otherwise within a maximum period of 14 days. In this way, the European Community wanted to counteract the sometimes extremely long waiting times for data to be transmitted.

Maximum of seven calendar days for reply

The new directive would significantly shorten existing deadlines. For urgent requests without obtaining judicial authorization, this would remain at eight hours. Urgent requests requiring such authorization would be processed within three calendar days. For all non-urgent requests, the time limit is now halved to seven calendar days.

However, the deadlines are often exceeded when requests for data exchange require judicial authorization. For this reason, the national contact points, which each Member State must set up according to a uniform model, are to have close contacts with a competent judicial authority.

Entry into force this year

The new directive is intended to repeal and replace the Framework Decision. This is known as „Lisbonization“ and refers to the Lisbon Treaty, which, among other things, gives Parliament more say.

The treaty, concluded in 2009, gave the EU its own legal personality and since then it has had to be involved in the legislation of the member states. The governments no longer take their decisions unanimously; with the communitization of the areas of justice and home affairs, a double majority is sufficient there as well.

The directive, which has been agreed among the member states behind the curtain already, is likely to be adopted by a large majority in the Council of Interior Ministers next week. It will probably not undergo any major changes in the negotiations with Parliament. Like numerous other new legislative procedures in the area of police and judicial information exchange, it will then enter into force this year.

Image: Jan Antonin Kolar on Unsplash.

Autor: Matthias Monroy

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