21st Oct 2016

EU wants to give police greater digital access

  • Police want access to an EU database that contains the biometric data of asylum seekers (Photo: EU's attempts)

The European Commission is set to propose expanding police access to sensitive digital data, including details of financial transactions made inside the EU and biometric data of asylum seekers.

The idea is laid out in an internal document, seen by this website, from EU counter-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove.

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The paper, dated 4 March 2016, says the commission is mulling proposals to broaden the Terrorist Financing Tracking Program (TFTP), also known as the Swift agreement.

Under the agreement, the US treasury department and EU law enforcement agencies have access to data on Europeans' financial transactions in a bid to identify terrorist financing.

But it excludes transactions made through the so-called Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA), a widespread system that allows people, for instance, to use their debit card anywhere in the euro area.

"This implies, in particular, an information gap to identify contextual information on foreign terrorist fighters and their associates within SEPA countries, thus decreasing opportunities to detect and disrupt terrorist (support) networks, including the related financing activities," notes the paper.

The internal document, titled State of Play on the Implementation of the Statement of the members of the European Council of 12 February 2015, suggests that the commission might seek to include SEPA transactions under the Swift agreement.

The document also criticises the way information from various EU-level databases is shared and used among national security agencies.

For example, it argues that Europol should be given greater access to the EU-wide fingerprint database Eurodac "to prevent, detect, and investigate serious crimes and terrorist offences".

Europol also wants to extend its access to the Schengen Information System, which allows European law enforcement agencies to create and share alerts.

The police agency can already carry out manual checks in the system, but is unable to enter alerts and has no access to data on missing persons or refusals of entry or stay in a country.

Europol chief Rob Wainwright earlier this year said more EU states are now participating in data sharing with the agency. Before the 13 November terror attacks in Paris, roughly half of EU states had signed up to any formal exchange of information with Europol. Most are now onboard.

The internal paper also contradicts an often-cited estimate that 5,000 people in Europe fought in Syria alongside militant jihadist groups, saying that data from Europol suggests the verified figure is 2,786.

"This despite well-founded estimates that around 5,000 EU citizens have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join Daesh and other extremist groups," notes the paper, using an alternative term for the Islamic State militant group.

EU interior ministers in Brussels are meeting to discuss how to improve the data sharing, with the UK and France pressing other EU states to be more proactive on intelligence sharing.

"On terrorism we've seen and we've made great strides in sharing information among European countries but there is more to do," UK home secretary Theresa May told reporters in Brussels on Thursday (10 March).

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