56. The Committee was informed by Europol that electronic
"handling codes" are attached to Europol data files.
These codes play a crucial technical role in the context of effective
authorisation and control procedures as they can determine to
whom personal data contained in the files may and may not be transmitted.
The Committee regrets that the British representatives on the
Europol Supervisory Body, when giving evidence to the Committee,
were not in a position to explain the system of handling codes
for information files and its implications for data protection
Enabling Europol to process
data as background information
57. The Danish Presidency's proposals include an amendment
of Article 6 of the Europol Convention to enable Europol to process
and use data as background information in its information system
and not only in connection with a specific work file (i.e. in
relation to a specific inquiry). The Committee fully accepts that
collating and analysing background information on international
crime developments can be an important part of the analysis and
information function of Europol and that there could be circumstances
in which it was justifiable to use personal data for this purpose.
It couldas suggested by HM Customs and Excise (p 45)be
of benefit, inter alia, to the further progress of research
into EU-wide organised crime.
58. However, in the Committee's view the current phrasing
of the proposed amendment to Article 6 of the Europol Convention
does not sufficiently define what sort of other data could be
used for this process and fails to explain its nature and possible
use. The Committee shares the concern expressed in some of the
evidence, for example from Statewatch (p 2) that this absence
of clear definitions could lead to an indiscriminate use of personal
data. The Committee notes in this context that the Joint Supervisory
Body itself requested that the amendment should specify what categories
of data would be considered as background information. The
Committee recommends that there should be a much clearer specification
of what other data it is intended to process and for what type
of background information, and more explicit assurance that the
processing of any personal data would be subject to adequate data
Time-limit on the storage
of personal data
59. At present under Article 21 (3) of the Convention the
time-limit on the storage of data by Europol is three years. The
draft protocol would amend Article 21 of the Convention to increase
this to five years. We have seen no justification for this change.
As the time limit begins to run afresh from the date on which
an event leading to the storage of data occurs, there seems little
risk that destruction of the data after three years would hamper
an ongoing investigation. Unless compelling evidence is produced
that the current time-limit on the storage of personal data gives
rise to real practical difficulties, we recommend that it should
not be increased.
Right of access to Europol
60. The proposed new Article 32a of the Europol Convention
would give right of access to Europol documents to any citizen
of the EU and those residing within the EU in accordance with
the principles and conditions determined by the European Parliament
and the Council in accordance with Article 255 of the Treaty establishing
the European Community. The Committee welcomes this proposed amendment.
It would put an end to the anomaly of Europol currently being
exempted from the legally binding transparency rules to which
other EU institutions areand should besubject. The
Committee notes with satisfaction the statement by Europol in
its written evidence (p 51) that Europol is already by analogy
applying the rules applicable to public access to EU Council documents.
61. The Committee is also fully aware, however, that as a
police organisation Europol has to be very selective in the documents
made available for public access. The balance between desirable
public access and the need to protect sensitive intelligence is
clearly a difficult and delicate one, and the JSB has an important
role in considering appeals against a refusal of disclosure. The
Committee regards it as important that a careful case-by-case
assessment should be made of any requests for access to documents
and that citizens should be clearly informed about the outcome
of their requests.