Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460-474)

Mr Daniel Drewer

28 NOVEMBER 2006

  Q460  Lord Teverson: Are different Member States very different in what they allow? Is there a lot of variability between Germany and Greece, or are they all pretty similar?

  Mr Drewer: I am afraid we have not made a study of that but that is an interesting question.

  Q461  Lord Teverson: What is your feeling?

  Mr Drewer: I do not have information on that.

  Lord Teverson: Thank you.

  Lord Avebury: What third countries, institutions and agencies are currently Europol's partners in information sharing? What are the rules and procedures applicable to these exchanges of information? You have partially answered that in your previous answer but in these handling codes are there any which permit unrestricted transfer of data to particular third countries or agencies?

  Q462  Chairman: Can I add to that. What changes would you like to see, if any, to the present rules that govern these exchanges?

  Mr Drewer: To answer your first question I can give you the list of our operational agreements. We have operational agreements in place with Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Eurojust, Iceland, Interpol, Norway, Romania, Switzerland and the US. Are you also interested in the strategic agreements for the exchange of non-personal data?

  Q463Lord Avebury: Please.

  Mr Drewer: We have strategic agreements with Colombia, the European Commission, the European Central Bank, the European Monitoring Centre of Drugs and Drug Addiction, the European Anti-Fraud Office, with Russia, with Turkey, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Customs Organisation. With the system of the handling codes the Member State can decide and give to Europol any handling instructions, so there is also the possibility for a Member State to use a handling code that is self-defined and, for the empty space on the transmission slip of that operational information, to say that this information should not go to that particular third country in any case or should only go to Iceland, for example. The restrictions of the Member States can be defined. The handling codes system is a flexible system and Europol has to obey any restrictions the Member States give to Europol, although the reason why we have Europol is the exchange of information but in a secure way and under the observation of data protection rules. We have therefore developed a system that respects the handling instructions of the owner of that information.

  Q464Chairman: Would these rules be affected by your access to SIS data?

  Mr Drewer: I do not believe so because the moment we receive the alert and the supplementary information the system that we have in place applies to this area.

  Q465Lord Avebury: Will the handling codes be attached to the SIS II data?

  Mr Drewer: Yes. The moment the Member State provides us with supplementary information, because that information also has to be stored at Europol in one of our systems. It is only possible to store information on our systems when we have a handling code on that information. The same applies if it is information that we get out of the Schengen Information System that is not line in with our mandate. We cannot store it on our systems, and there will be no further dissemination of the information by Europol.

  Q466Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: In limited circumstances, as I understand it, the Director of Europol is permitted to exchange information in the absence of an agreement. That is correct, is it not?

  Mr Drewer: Yes.

  Q467Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: How often has he made use of this power?

  Mr Drewer: There is the possibility for him to do so as foreseen in one of the Council Acts. There are two conditions foreseen in which he can do this. When he decides to do this he has to inform the Management Board and the Joint Supervisory Body without delay about his assessment. There have been cases in the past where the Director took this right under the Council Act and there has been an exchange of personal data with two third states that are now, in fact, our co-operation partners and who have an agreement. But at that time they had no agreement. Before 2005 there were two cases. Since I became Data Protection Officer in 2005 there have been no such cases and since our new Director, Mr Ratzel, joined Europol in 2005 there have been no cases.

  Q468Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: You mentioned two conditions, what are they?

  Mr Drewer: The two conditions are from the Council Act: I believe one is in the essential interest of the Member State and there is a second condition, 2 but I will have to look in the legal text More important is paragraph 4 of the Council Act because it is outlined there that the Director has to inform the Management Board and JSB of his assessment.

  Q469  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: So before he does anything?

  Mr Drewer: No. You can imagine that these are decisions taken as a matter of urgency. He takes the decision on the basis of the catalogue that is in the Council Act and later on he has to inform the Management Board without undue delay—that is written in the legal text—that he took the decision and, in addition, he has to inform them of his assessment of the situation when he took the decision to disseminate the data. There were two cases with two of the third states: they are now co-operation partners with operational agreements to exchange personal data.

  Q470  Earl of Caithness: Can I ask you a question which you have not got notice of. There have been a lot of complaints about the quality of the data in SIS I. Have you found difficulty with the quality of the data and has it made your job any more difficult?

  Mr Drewer: I believe I cannot answer this question since we have no access to the Schengen Information

2  Council Act of 12 March 1999, adopting the rules governing the transmission of personal date by Europol to third states and third bodies (1999/C 88/01). Article 16 foresees the condition "in the interest of preventing imminent danger associated with crime".

System. We know about the discussion on the quality of data, which is also a data protection question.

  Q471  Earl of Caithness: Looking forward, is there an input that Europol can make to make certain that the quality of information is what you require to enable you to do your job better so you can direct Member States in that direction?

  Mr Drewer: Europol's Director is in the position of having an obligation to look at the quality of the data that we enter into our systems. If the future shows that the data quality is not sufficient then we would have a data protection issue when taking this data into our systems. For this we have a system at Europol called an evaluation code for the information where the sending Member State tells us about the reliability of the information. If you talk about the accuracy of the information, this is something we have to look at as soon as the information comes to us: is the information accurate and can it be processed in our systems. From our point of view these are not Schengen specific questions. These are questions that we have to answer whenever we receive Member States' information.

  Q472  Chairman: One of the points of particular interest to this Committee is the implications of British partial opt-in or partial opt-out of Schengen. Have you got any comments, and by all means go off the record if you prefer, on the implications for Europol of the British partial membership of Schengen?

  Mr Drewer: No, I do not. We do not have access yet to the Schengen system. We are not that far, and SIS II will take quite some time. It is not a question that a Data Protection Officer can answer because it is very much connected to the operational side of the business of law enforcement exchange.

  Q473  Chairman: How about your relationship with sire"ne or SIRENE, however we pronounce it?

  Mr Drewer: We do not have a direct relationship since we always have to exchange via a European national unit. Our requests for more information go to the European national unit and then they contact the national SIRENE office. That is the way the information is channelled.

  Q474  Chairman: I see. Mr Drewer, we are very grateful to you. Again, I thank you for coming here from The Hague to talk to us. If I may, I would like to thank and congratulate you on the concise and very helpful way in which you have dealt with our questions.

  Mr Drewer: Thank you very much.

  Chairman: I wish you a safe and happy journey back. Thank you so much.

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