Strong data protection to improve EU approach to serious crimes

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Robust data protection considerations can strengthen the credibility of investigations into serious crimes in the EU. This is the message the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) sent in his opinion published today on the Commission proposal for a new legal framework for the EU Agency for Law Enforcement and Training (Europol). The EDPS fully supports the need for innovative and flexible approaches in preventing and combating serious crimes, but also insists on strong safeguards. The validity of a criminal investigation relies on the quality and integrity of the data collected. Respecting data protection principles can help reinforce the reliability of such evidence.

Peter Hustinx, EDPS, said: “A strong framework of data protection is important not only for those under suspicion or involved in an investigation, but also contributes to the success of police and judicial cooperation. As the work of Europol relies on the cooperation with and between law enforcement agencies in Europe, it is important that data protection considerations are fully taken into account: in practice this means that Europol should collate personal information for specific investigations only. It is important that Europol maintains a high level of data protection as the role it plays in combating serious crimes increases. The effective supervision of Europol is needed to ensure that it operates in full compliance with the stringent case law of the EU Court.”

In order to support law enforcement agencies throughout Europe to help prevent and combat organised crime, terrorism and other forms of serious crime, Europol’s core activities consist of gathering, analysing and disseminating personal information. Given the increasingly cross-border nature of this work, the EDPS says it is imperative that clearly defined criteria are outlined for transfers of information to third countries and international organisations.

While Europol has maintained a good data protection regime in the past, the proposed idea to cross-reference information stored in different databases to check if individuals or groups are suspected of more than one type of crime – drugs and human trafficking for example – could be a cause for concern if data protection safeguards are not put in place. The increased flexibility to cross check information should be balanced, for example, by specifying the purpose and in general by keeping a high level of data protection, at least as high as that which is prescribed in the current data protection framework. Here to read more.

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