Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Association of Chief Police Officers, Scotland (ACPOS)


JUSTIFICATION

Does the fight against terrorism require much greater operational co-operation and freer exchange of data between law enforcement authorities (both national and EU)?

  There is no doubt that the fight against terrorism is an international one and requires an international response. This will necessitate closer co-operation between Member States, although the existing arrangements, if interpreted correctly, seem fit for purpose.

  The exchange of information, particularly in relation to matters of national security, does take place, with the Security Service acting as the recipient and central collation point for the majority of such information. Whilst the secure Cluster messaging system linking United Kingdom Law Enforcement Agencies allows information transfer, there is currently no accessible database to allow police forces to interrogate National Security intelligence. The ability to do this would significantly benefit investigations. At European Union level, it may be that the ability to exchange such data should be limited to a body such as Europol, with the ability to monitor investigations in Member States.

DATA EXCHANGES

The Commission calls for the establishment of the principle of equivalent access to data by national law enforcement authorities in the EU. To what extent would this challenge the fundamental legal and constitutional principles of Member States?

  Though individual law enforcement agencies throughout the EU will co-operate fully on all aspects of the investigation of terrorist activity, it is unlikely that many would support the concept of equivalent access. This has implications affecting the intelligence gathering process and would impact directly upon the legal and constitutional principles of Member States to some considerable degree.

  Currently, Europol undertakes the role of dealing with matters pertaining to criminal intelligence from throughout Europe. This model functions well and has demonstrated an ability to improve the effectiveness and co-operation between Member States.

The Commission calls for the interoperability of EU databases. What are the implications of a facility for transferring data between databases? Is there a case for a centralised EU database for all law enforcement purposes?

  The establishment of full interoperability of all law enforcement databases would be a mammoth task. The Schengen Information System provides a model for a degree of integration, though further attempts at closer ties are likely to meet with considerable resistance from most law enforcement agencies and governments of individual Member States.

  In the UK, there are occasional difficulties achieving compatibility in the exchange of data between north and south of the border, although the introduction of the Scottish Intelligence Database (SID) has resulted in significant progress being made within Scotland. Similar work in relation to the National Special Branch Information System (NSBIS) is also ongoing and will afford the sharing of terrorist/extremist intelligence across the UK. It is considered likely that there will be legal and practical challenges in the future regarding the population and sharing of intelligence on NSBIS and while the ability to interrogate a similar intelligence system across Europe would be beneficial, it is suggested that the debate would be far better informed from a sound platform and through experience gained from the creation of UK-wide functionality for NSBIS and any SID equivalent.

  Whilst crucial to ensure the integrity of each individual system, the existing legislation, with appropriate deliberation and agreement, would require amendment to allow progress of these issues. The associated challenges are considerable although not insurmountable and may be resolved if sufficient political will exists to do so.

DATA PROTECTION

Would current data protection arrangements continue to provide an adequate level of protection for the individual if the collection and exchange of data were increased on the scale envisaged? Is there a need for a common EU data protection legal framework for the Third pillar, as advocated by the Commission?

  Provided that the numbers of those staff with responsibility for administering the current data protection arrangements are increased in line with that envisaged by the Commission, there should be no requirement to alter arrangements as they stand at present. While there will be a need to establish a policy to ensure commonality of data protection processes throughout the EU, this may impinge unnecessarily upon individual Member States' legislative arrangements.

Should there be common standards for the transfer of personal data from EU bodies and Member States to third countries/bodies, including Interpol?

  Individual Member States will have their own data protection arrangements, and from a UK perspective, to ensure that confidence in the system is maintained, it is crucial that the existing high standards demanded by UK data protection legislation are mirrored in any system overseen or administered by the Commission. The appointment of a Data Protection Officer and Joint Supervisory Body at Eurojust to ensure commonality of standards should be sufficient to monitor the effectiveness and justification for the transfer of data between Member States.

THE ROLE OF THE EUROPEAN UNION

Is there a need for an EU intelligence policy, as advocated by the Commission? To what extent can EU objectives be identified separate from those of the Member States?

  Though the threat to Western democracies from international terrorism undoubtedly affects the EU members as a whole, a common EU intelligence policy would be extremely difficult to implement given the varied domestic problems that affect a large number of Member States. To this end, the EU should have a common voice in tackling international terrorism, though it should guarantee individual Member States the freedom to act individually concerning domestic issues.

How important is it for the EU to speak with one voice in the international arena in matters involving counter-terrorism co-operation?

  It is extremely important that the EU should be able to present a united front in terms of counter-terrorism co-operation, though this is likely to be restricted to generalisations, as the interests of Member States will occasionally give cause for discussion at a governmental level.

The UK recently hosted a summit of five Member States ("G5") to examine measures to combat terrorism. Do moves of this kind prejudice EU wide initiatives?

  Individual Member States should be encouraged to discuss measures designed to counter terrorist operations. The recent "G5" Summit discussed key issues that affect all Member States and these are likely to be the subject of further high level talks. These smaller Summits of influential members can only benefit the EU as a whole, although the accessibility by Member States to the decision making process will determine how they are regarded.

INSTITUTIONAL ARRANGEMENTS

What is the added value of the post of EU Counter-Terrorism Co-ordinator? What should his/her role be?

  The suggestion of a post of Co-ordinator for Counter Terrorism for the EU is one that has considerable merit.

  The main role of the post holder should be to encourage greater co-operation between Member States through the existing arrangements, while identifying areas where individual Member States acting together can best progress investigations to their mutual benefit. Such a post will provide a conduit for the most effective use, on an international scale, of available information so as to maximise the effectiveness of any proposed intervention.

  The Co-ordinator's role should include:

    —  The creation of a definition of terrorism which enables nation states to challenge all of those groups who would threaten our peace by use of violence.

    —  The ability to bring together lead figures across EU states responsible for CT responses with a view to initiating best practice in their endeavours.

    —  The responsibility to set standards in terms of training, recruitment, IT systems and standard procedures.

    —  The responsibility to ensure that appropriate levels of exchange occur between and across States to enable effective operational planning to occur.

    —  Membership of and responsibility for the secretariat of a strategic high level steering group tasked with implementing a counter terrorist strategy for the EU. Membership of the group should include Europol, Eurojust, CPO Task Force, etc. The steering group should have direct access to the Commission and should be answerable to the Commission for its decisions.

    —  Access to a level of budget that would enable the necessary charges to be initiated.

What changes are called for in the EU's institutional arrangements (including Eurojust, Europol, the Chief Police Officers' Task Force and the Terrorism Working Group) in order to combat terrorism more effectively?

  With due regard to the constitutional and legislative arrangements in place for each Member State, greater co-operation is required across all levels between those responsible for intelligence gathering, the implementation of operational plans and the prosecution of arrested individuals. These processes require to be addressed in a structured manner, so that all the constituent agencies are aware of their responsibilities and how their efforts can best impact upon counter terrorist activities.

  Eurojust, whilst a fledgling agency, has the capability to grow and ensure the jurisdiction of member states is addressed in relation to investigations spreading across many borders. Again, Europol is beginning to have an impact in relation to criminal matters, particularly drugs. With expansion and a legislated constitution to accommodate terrorist matters, this organisation could provide the required structure. The Sirene Bureau at NCIS is now linked into other bureaux throughout Europe, under the Schengen Agreement, allowing the ability of Law Enforcement agencies to track persons throughout Europe.

What contribution can EU level training and in particular the EU Police College (CEPOL) make?

  It is clear that, whilst Europe continues to expand, our understanding of each other's constitutions and Law Enforcement capabilities requires to be developed. There would be value in training individuals involved in terrorist investigations, to encompass a more complete awareness of how other EU Countries would interact in a cross border investigation. Clearly, this would be limited to senior investigators who would be likely to be involved in such investigations and those responsible for the gathering and transfer of related intelligence.

  In the past 18 months, CEPOL has developed its focus, with results demonstrating the positive impact and value it can have for senior police officers from throughout Europe. In addition, the college has fostered a good spirit of co-operation between National Training Centres, encouraging debate on future training needs for senior police officers.

  The main difficulty, as recognised by participants and those responsible for training issues in the police environment throughout the EU, is in identifying an audience of appropriately qualified police officers who have a sufficient command of the English language to benefit from the learning opportunities.

William Rae, QPM

Chief Constable

(Hon Secretary ACPOS)

9 September 2004


 
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