Twenty-ninth Report of Session 2012-13 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

19   The exchange of information for law enforcement purposes



COM(12) 735

Commission Communication: Strengthening law enforcement cooperation in the EU: the European Information Exchange Model (EIXM)

Legal base
Document originated 7 December 2012
Deposited in Parliament 10 December 2012
DepartmentHome Office
Basis of considerationEM of 9 January 2013
Previous Committee ReportNone; but see HC 428-ii (2010-11), chapter 12 (15 September 2010) is relevant
Discussion in CouncilNo date set
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared; further information requested in forthcoming Explanatory Memoranda on measures subject to the UK's 2014 block opt-out


19.1  The removal of internal border controls through the creation of an EU internal market and the establishment of the Schengen free movement area has been accompanied by a range of measures to strengthen external border controls and enhance police, judicial and customs co-operation to tackle cross-border crime within the EU. Many of these measures depend on the cross-border exchange of data between law enforcement authorities.

19.2  A multiplicity of systems for the cross-border exchange of information, however, carries risks in terms of personal data protection, invasion of privacy, lack of coherence and duplication. As a result, the Stockholm Programme, which establishes the EU's priorities in the justice and home affairs field for the period 2010-14, recognised "the need for coherence and consolidation in developing information management and exchange" systems and invited the Commission and Council to implement an EU Information Management Strategy based on a strong data protection regime.[77] The European Council also invited the Commission to evaluate existing instruments for the exchange of information with a view to determining whether there was a need to develop a European Information Exchange Model.

19.3  As a first step, the Commission published a Communication in July 2010 providing an overview of EU justice and home affairs instruments which regulate the collection, storage and exchange of personal data for law enforcement or migration purposes. It described each instrument in terms of the purposes for which data may be collected, stored or exchanged; the structure of the information exchange system (some are centralised, with data collected and stored at EU level, others are decentralised); the type of personal data held; the authorities which have access to the data; rules on data retention and protection; and provision for review or evaluation.

19.4  Our Second Report of 15 September 2010 set out the main EU instruments used for the cross-border exchange of information and the "core set of principles" proposed by the Commission to govern information exchange. These include: safeguarding fundamental rights (especially the right to privacy and personal data protection); complying with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality; and ensuring that EU information management systems are based on an assessment of need and include a purpose limitation. In addition to these substantive principles, the Commission also proposed "process-oriented principles" to ensure a rigorous analysis of cost-effectiveness, involvement of a wide range stakeholders, a clear allocation of responsibilities (notably at the design stage) and systematic inclusion of review clauses.[78]

The Commission Communication

19.5  The purpose of the Commission's latest Communication is to consider how the cross-border exchange of information between law enforcement authorities works in practice and to recommend possible improvements. It focuses principally on Member States' use of four EU instruments:

  • the Framework Decision on exchange of information between law enforcement authorities (the "Swedish initiative") which establishes rules (and deadlines) for the exchange of information and intelligence between Member States' law enforcement authorities for the purpose of criminal investigations. It is based on the principle of "equivalent access", which means that the conditions governing the supply of information to another Member State should be no more onerous than would be the case in a purely domestic or internal context;
  • the Prüm Decision which provides for the automated exchange of DNA profiles, fingerprints, vehicle registration data and information relating to suspected terrorist attacks in order to help prevent and investigate crime, particularly terrorism, and maintain public order;
  • Europol, including the Europol Information System, which enables Member States to exchange criminal intelligence and information to prevent and combat serious and organised crime; and
  • the Schengen Information System (SIS and SIS II) which includes information ("alerts") on individuals and objects and is intended to support cooperation between police and judicial authorities in criminal matters.

19.6  The Commission states at the outset that these, and other information exchange systems (including, for example, Interpol and bilateral agreements between Member States) generally work well, adding:

"No new EU-level law enforcement databases or information exchange instruments are therefore needed at this stage. However, the existing EU instruments could and should be better implemented, and the exchanges should be organised more consistently."[79]

19.7  The recommendations put forward in the Communication are intended to provide the basis for a European Information Exchange Model, with particular emphasis placed on ensuring a high level of data quality, security and protection, as well as more coherent use of existing communication channels. These channels are based on national units established in each Member State which use one of three main communication tools:

  • SIRENE[80] bureaux for SIS-related requests: once a Member State has discovered a match with data held in the Central Schengen Information System, it may request supplementary information from the Member State which entered the original alert using the SISNET information exchange system. SISNET will be replaced by a new communication tool once SIS II becomes operational later in 2013.
  • Europol National Units for Europol-related requests: these Units exchange information with Europol, and with Member States on a bilateral basis for crimes which are outside Europol's mandate, by means of the SIENA secure communications tool.[81]
  • Interpol National Central Bureaux: these Units use a specific communication tool to exchange information with Interpol as well as bilaterally.

19.8  The Communication does not propose any changes to existing EU information exchange instruments, other than those which may result from draft legislation, expected later in 2013, to reform Europol. It does, however, underline the need for all Member States to implement the instruments, highlighting, in particular, delays in exchanging Prûm data (which are described in greater detail in Chapter 20 of this Report) and the limited number of data exchanges based on the Swedish initiative.

19.9  Given the diversity of the communication channels available to Member States, and the relative freedom they have to select the most appropriate one, the Commission suggests that greater convergence would be helpful. It recommends using the Europol National Units, and the SIENA communication tool, as the "default channel" for exchanging information unless there are specific reasons for using another one. More systematic use of this channel would also improve the flow of information to Europol so that it is able to establish a more comprehensive picture of cross-border criminality within the EU.

19.10  In addition, the Commission urges Member States to establish a round-the-clock single point of contact for international police cooperation, bringing together all national law enforcement authorities with access to national databases. The single point of contact would validate requests for information, ensure consistent use of the appropriate communication channel, and provide coordination at Member State level.

19.11  The Communication highlights the advantages of developing standardised formats for exchanging information, not least to avoid errors in data entry when performed manually, whilst recognising that certain tasks, such as the validation of requests for information or replies, should not be automated. It also suggests that the development of a European Interoperability Framework should make it easier for different national systems and administrative structures to communicate with one another, improve data quality, and reduce response times.

19.12  The Commission estimates that approximately one-quarter of criminal investigations and intelligence operations carried out by Member States involve the cross-border exchange of information and recommends, therefore, that the use of EU information exchange instruments should form part of the initial training programme for all law enforcement officers. It suggests that Member States' national multiannual programmes to implement the EU Internal Security Fund from 2014-20 should include an indication of national information exchange priorities with a view to obtaining EU funding.

The Government's view

19.13 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Security (James Brokenshire) says that the Government broadly accepts the Communication and is satisfied with its central recommendation that no new EU legislation is needed. He notes that the UK already has a single point of contact for incoming requests for information (the Interpol National Central Bureau based in the Serious Organised Crime Agency) but indicates that the Government will need to consider the implications of the Commission's recommendation to use SIENA as the default channel for cross-border information exchanges. He expresses interest in work led by Europol to automate some processes which currently are performed manually, particularly given the significant increase in international information exchanges in recent years, and says that the Government will work closely with the Commission to ensure that the recommendations made in the Communication are acceptable to the UK, "in terms of operational effectiveness, policy direction and costs."[82]

19.14  Turning to the UK's record in implementing the main information exchange instruments described in the Communication, the Minister notes that the UK has fully implemented the Swedish initiative, and is a major user of Europol, but that some aspects of the Prûm Decision remain to be implemented. He continues:

"All these EU instruments are included in the list of police and judicial co-operation measures which are subject to the UK's 2014 opt-out decision. The Home Secretary announced to Parliament on 15 October 2012 that the Government's current thinking is to opt out of measures within the scope of the 2014 decision and seek to rejoin individual measures where it is in national interest to do so. Any decision we make in this regard will be subject to a vote in both Houses of Parliament."[83]


19.15  The Communication provides a useful insight into the practical workings of a variety of mechanisms and instruments established at EU level for the exchange of information between national law enforcement authorities. We note that the Government is broadly satisfied with the content of the Communication and, in particular, its central recommendation that no new legislation is needed to supplement or amend (with the exception of Europol) the existing instruments. It is, however, disappointing that the Minister gives no indication of the Government's view on the practical and operational utility of these measures for the UK, in terms of their contribution to tackling cross-border crime and enhancing cross-border cooperation on law enforcement matters.

19.16  As the principal EU instruments governing the exchange of criminal information and intelligence are within the scope of the UK's 2014 block opt-out of EU criminal law and policing measures adopted before the Lisbon Treaty entered into force, the UK's future participation remains in doubt. In light of the important role which Parliament will play in debating and voting on the Government's block opt-out decision, and on any recommendation that the Government may make to seek to rejoin individual measures subject to the block opt-out, we consider that the Communication should be drawn to the attention of the House.

19.17  As the Communication itself has no direct legal, policy or financial implications for the UK, we are content to clear it from scrutiny. In so doing, however, we remind the Minister that we expect the Government's forthcoming Explanatory Memoranda on measures subject to the UK's block opt-out to include a more detailed examination of the utility of these measures, as well as the costs involved in UK participation and the expected benefits.

77   See the Stockholm Programme, para 4.2.2, Council document 17024/09. Back

78   See headnote. Back

79   See p.2 of the Communication. Back

80   Supplementary Information Request at the National Entry. Back

81   Secure Information Exchange Network Application. Back

82   See para 21 of the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum. Back

83   See para 17 of the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum. Back

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