Exchange of information between the law enforcement authorities of the Member States
In order to step up the fight against terrorism and organised crime, the European Commission wishes to enhance the exchange of information between the law enforcement authorities of the Member States. It proposes introducing a European information policy for these authorities aimed at better exchange of information, at intelligence-led law enforcement and at building trust on the basis of respect for fundamental rights.
Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 16 June 2004: Towards enhancing access to information by law enforcement agencies [COM(2004) 429 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
In this communication, the Commission proposes an approach aimed at improving free circulation of information between the law enforcement authorities of the Member States and the authority in charge of crime prevention. These authorities include the police forces, customs authorities, financial intelligence units, the judicial authorities and all the public bodies involved in the detection of security threats, conviction and punishment. The Commission's proposals come in the wake of the declaration on combating terrorism of the European Council of 25 March 2004 and encompass legal, technical and organisational measures for combating terrorist threats and organised crime.
The Commission points out that there are two main obstacles to this free circulation of information. The first is that the information tends to be compartmentalised at both organisational and legal levels. For example, it is divided between different ministries and services and is intended for use in different procedures, thereby affecting the nature and sensitivity of the information that can be handled by the services. The second obstacle is the lack of a clear policy on information channels, resulting in disagreement on the choice of channel and on how to handle sensitive and confidential information.
The three main objectives proposed by the Commission are therefore the following:
- to take stock and analyse the conditions needed to improve access to, and the use and exchange of, relevant information on law enforcement and crime prevention;
- to introduce an EU intelligence-led police and judicial policy;
- to maintain a strict balance between effective respect for citizens' rights and an increase in state powers of obtaining and using information in order to ensure that the security level demanded by these citizens is maintained by democratic processes.
In order to achieve these objectives, the Commission points out that the policy on exchange of information between the law enforcement agencies must take into account several factors. Firstly, there must be common and concerted action by the national, European and international agencies. As well as security, respect for individual rights, human rights and fundamental freedoms must be ensured. Compatible information exchange systems protected against unlawful access are also needed, as are common standards for information storage, analysis and exchange between the relevant services.
The Commission calls on the Member States to implement an information policy aimed at:
- making accessible necessary and relevant data for the law enforcement authorities and those responsible for preventing crime and terrorism;
- promoting the production and use of EU criminal intelligence that is of high-quality in both strategic and operational terms;
- building trust between the relevant services, in particular through personal data protection.
Access to data and information
The main aim of the information policy is to make the information needed for combating terrorism and organised crime accessible to all the EU law enforcement authorities who need this information in order to carry out their statutory tasks. To this end, the Commission proposes launching initiatives associated with conditions for access to information and with data collection and exchange.
The main obstacles to data sharing identified by the Commission are created by the lack of:
- common standards for data processing and access;
- compatible crime definitions and statistics;
- culture of cooperation between the relevant authorities and between public- and private-sector players;
- awareness of data protection rules.
The Commission proposes laying down transparent and straightforward conditions for access to data. Member States will be responsible for the implementation of these conditions. The Commission intends to launch studies on:
- needs and restrictions in this area;
- conditions of access;
- data protection and security procedures.
The information policy introduces the principle of right of equivalent access to data. Once established, this principle would allow mutual exchange of data between the authorities and agencies in the Member States based on the standards and conditions applicable in the Member State in which the data are to be accessed.
This principle of equivalent access is underpinned by the following basic considerations:
- the security of the Union and its citizens is a joint responsibility;
- Member States depend on each other to enforce laws in order to combat terrorism and organised crime;
- the law enforcement authorities in the various Member States fulfil similar tasks;
- the law enforcement authorities act lawfully when accessing data.
In order to develop further the principle of equivalent access, the Commission proposes introducing minimum standards for the collection of data. It also plans to create a network of databases or a central database.
Lastly, the Commission wishes to promote research on security co-financed by the AGIS programme. In addition, a preparatory security research action for 2004-06 is aimed at launching a comprehensive European security research programme from 2007.
Enforcement of EU intelligence-led law
The second objective of the information policy is to establish measures aimed at developing intelligence-led law enforcement in the EU. The police and judicial authorities are to be encouraged to enhance cooperation through intelligence-led actions. The Commission intends to make the necessary information available to a criminal intelligence network and to format this information so that it can be used throughout the EU. The aim is to improve the security of the EU and its citizens while respecting individuals' fundamental rights and the rule of law.
The Commission envisages a two-phased approach. In the first phase, it proposes that the Member States' criminal intelligence services should meet on a monthly basis, under the aegis of Europol, to exchange intelligence and discuss their strategic assessments. In the second phase, these services could produce criminal intelligence using standardised analytical tools.
To this end, the Commission would like to involve Europol more closely and increase its importance. It also plans to call on the Chiefs of Police Task Force (CPTF) to set up a common curriculum for training intelligence officials of the European Police College (CEPOL).
Building of trust
The third objective of the information policy is to contribute to the building of trust between the authorities, officials and partners responsible for law enforcement in Europe by establishing a joint platform of shared values, standards and policies. Another aim of the information policy is to develop working relations between the Member States. The Commission plans to present more proposals in this area by the end of 2005.