Counter-terrorism and the inflation of EU databases

Heiner Busch and Matthias Monroy. Translation by Viktoria Langer

The topic of counter-terrorism in Europe remains closely linked to the development and expansion of police (and secret service) databases. This was the case in the 1970s, after 11 September 2001 and has also been the case since 2014, when the EU Member States started working on their action plans against ‚foreign terrorist fighters‘.

The first effect of this debate has been a quantitative one: the amount of data in the relevant databases has increased explosively since 2015. This can be seen by looking in particular at available data on the Europol databases, like ‚Focal Points‘ (formerly: Analytical Work Files) of the Europol analysis system. Since 2015 they have become one of the central instruments of the European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC) which was established in January 2016. Counter-terrorism and the inflation of EU databases weiterlesen

Pretty complicated: The European data landscape

The Council of the European Union has published a diagram of all of information systems in the realm of justice and home affairs. This overview includes databases operated by the police, customs and agencies, as well as by Interpol. It also features the agreement between the EU and the USA on exchanging data regarding financial transactions.

A new diagram is intended to make it easier for delegations from European Union member states to get to grips with the data landscape in the area of justice and home affairs. This was against the backdrop of the High Level Expert Group on Information Systems and Interoperability launched in the summer of last year, which is tasked with the development of proposals to improve file-sharing. The group is made up of members of the Commission and the member states, as well as external “experts”.

All existing information systems are to be assessed and tested for their usefulness. Uniform formats that are developed by the Bundeskriminalamt (Federal Criminal Police Office) and the police agency Europol are envisaged. A further aim is to improve the quality of the data supplied. A problem that the authorities run up against when dealing with decentralised systems is the fact that the member states often use different software programmes. The Expert Group is working to assess the feasibility of centralising systems in such cases. Pretty complicated: The European data landscape weiterlesen

Interpol launches new facial recognition database

Law enforcement agencies increasingly rely on facial recognition systems. In addition to their use in identifying criminals, these might also be used in future to perform automatic matching against appropriate databases of everyone crossing an external border of the EU. Interpol is also considering searching through images on social networks.

Following a two-year trial period the international police organisation Interpol has launched a new facial recognition system. This system, called MorphoFace Investigate, complements a database currently used by law enforcement agencies for fingerprint storage and crime-solving.

Developed by the French company Safran Identity & Security, it allows a range of image and video formats to be processed. In the first instance, data on persons wanted by Interpol or reported as missing are being used. Photos held in two relevant databases are presently being checked for their quality and, if suitable for facial recognition, will then be entered into the new database. Interpol launches new facial recognition database weiterlesen

E-evidence: Internet companies in the USA to facilitate direct enquiries by European authorities

When conducting digital investigations, authorities often run up against the problem that the data they are looking for is stored on servers abroad or that service providers do not respond to requests. The European Commission is therefore working to develop uniform standards. A number of companies are already cooperating in these efforts.

The European Union intends to make it easier for the police and secret services to access servers belonging to Internet providers. This is set out by a position paper by the European Commission on gaining access to e-evidence, which was discussed at the recent Justice and Home Affairs Council. The paper contains proposals for implementing the Council conclusions on “Improving criminal justice in cyberspace” of June of this year. Allowing authorities to submit direct enquiries to companies is on the table. E-evidence: Internet companies in the USA to facilitate direct enquiries by European authorities weiterlesen

About the implementation of the EU Directive on the use of passenger name record data

The PNR directive obliges air carriers to collect a whole host of data and pass it on to the border authorities in advance of all flights. This information includes registration data, seat and flight numbers, along with food preferences, credit card details or IP addresses. PNR passenger information units (PIUs) in the Member States then analyse the information to identify “suspects and anomalous travel patterns”.

On 27 April, the European Parliament and the Council adopted the Directive on the use of passenger name record (PNR) data. Information collected at the booking stage can now be used by police forces and intelligence services to “prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute” terrorist offences or serious crime. For flights from and to the EU, up to 60 individual pieces of data on passengers are collected and stored for five years. These include registration data, seat and flight numbers, along with food preferences, credit card details or IP addresses.

The collection of PNR data not only applies to airlines, but also to travel agencies, tour operators or other service providers who book flights. In the future, the plan is for European PNR data to also be exchanged with third countries or international organisations.   About the implementation of the EU Directive on the use of passenger name record data weiterlesen

New EU network of judicial authorities to combat the “challenges stemming from encryption”

The European Union intends to simplify investigative authorities’ access to encrypted content. This emerged from the replies to a questionnaire that was circulated to all Member States by the Slovak Presidency of the EU Council. After a “reflection process”, efforts in this area are, according to the summary of the replies, intended to give rise to a framework for cooperation with Internet providers. It remains unclear whether this will take the form ofa recommendation, regulation or directive.

The replies to the questionnaire are now being examined by the Friends of the Presidency Group on Cyber Issues (FoP Cyber), which also held discussions on “increasing tendencies to exploit encrypted communication in order to hide criminal activities, identities and crime scenes”. Those taking part included the European External Action Service, the European Defence Agency and other EU institutions. FoP Cyber’s recommendations will then be addressed at the meeting of the next Justice and Home Affairs Council in Brussels. New EU network of judicial authorities to combat the “challenges stemming from encryption” weiterlesen