21st Oct 2016

Europol chief takes instructions on document access from Americans

  • Europol's new Headquarters on Eisenhowerlaan in The Hague (Photo: Europol)

The head of the EU police agency Europol is taking instructions from the Americans on what EU-drafted documents he can and cannot release to EU lawmakers.

The issue came up over the summer when US ambassador to the EU Anthony Gardner told EU ombudsman Emily O’Reilly she cannot inspect an annual Europol report drafted by the agency’s own internal data protection review board.

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The report describes how data concerning EU citizens and residents is transferred to the US.

O’Reilly on Thursday (4 September) said she sent a letter to the European Parliament asking the assembly “to consider whether it is acceptable that an agreement with a foreign government should prevent the Ombudsman from doing her job”.

O’Reilly had wanted to review the report, initially requested in 2012 by Dutch MEP liberal Sophie In’t Veld, in order to assess if Europol’s refusal to allow the lawmaker access was justified.

But Europol said it was unable to allow O’Reilly to inspect the document because it first needed the consent of the US authorities. Europol asked and the Americans said ‘No’.

The Americans are unhappy because Europol had drafted the report “without prior written authorisation from the information owner (in this case the Treasury Department).”

They say its release would breach “security protocols” and possibly “undermine the relationship of trust needed to share sensitive information between enforcement agencies.”

The response prompted O’Reilly to seek out Gardner in July who then took a similar line.

“If the US says ‘No disclosure’ then it won’t be disclosed, which is ridiculous because we are EU citizens, we vote, we pay taxes, we have EU laws, and we decide what happens on this continent. Nobody else,” In’t Veld told this website.

The Dutch MEP said a set of criteria must be created to justify why some EU-level documents are being classified as secret while others are not.

“There is no operational information, there is no intelligence, there is nothing in the document. So you really wonder why it is kept a secret,” she said.

The report, drafted by Europol’s Joint Supervisory Body, looks at how the EU-US terrorist financial tracking programme (TFTP) is being implemented.

The TFTP agreement came under fire following revelations last year the Americans were conducting indiscriminate and secret surveillance operations on EU citizens and their leadership.

Right-wing MEPs dump access to documents project

Meanwhile, centre-right and conservatives MEPs in the civil liberties committee on Wednesday rejected an amendment to boost transparency and access to documents in a budget vote.

An amendment tabled by a handful liberal MEPs in the committee proposed setting up a pilot project to create an “easy online access to unclassified EU institution documents”.

The amendment requested €1 million to be set aside for the web portal, set for launch early next year.

But British conservative MEP Timothy Kirkhope in an email said his group, while supporting more transparency and document access, rejected the idea because it needs further evaluation to ensure tax payer money is well spent.

“We do not support funding yet more pilot projects and schemes without proper evaluation and full assessment of whether these programmes deliver value for money to the tax payer," he said. "The amendment allocating money for access to documents is such an example."

The proposal is not entirely dead and may still be included in the overall budget line when it comes to a vote in the budget committee and then in the plenary at the end of October.

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