EU: Europol boosts its reach, scope and information-gathering

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The 2011 annual report of Europol makes clear that the agency, whose work is not subject to European or national parliamentary scrutiny, is significantly increasing the scope of its activities, its geographical reach, and its information-gathering, exchange and analysis. [1]

The report, submitted to the Council of the European Union on 15 May, states that Europol's "crucial role is increasingly recognised" and that the agency has "increasing engagement from our operational partners combined with increasing attention from our strategic stakeholders."

The statistics provided in the report demonstrate increases on every front. Europol provided operational support for over 13,500 cross-border cases in 2011, an increase of over 17% on 2010.

2011 saw growth in forensic and technical support; financial support to operational meetings; financial support to investigations; the hosting of operational and coordinating meetings; and deployments of Europol's mobile office, which increased to 84 in 2011, up from 31 in 2010.

The mobile office is used for "on the spot analysis", and often provides Member States' authorities with "direct access to counterterrorism databases." [2]

Currently the agency uses 777 people, of whom 92 are analysts and 145 liaison officers from Member States, non-EU countries and international organisations. This is a near-doubling on the 2007 figures, when the agency employed 398 staff. [3]

This has been complemented by an increase in budget, which in 2011 was €84.8 million. In 2008 the agency's budget came to just over €60 million. [4]

The Member States with whom Europol works most often are the Netherlands (involved in over 10% of Europol's cases); Germany (also over 10%); the UK (over 9%); France and Spain (over 8% each); Belgium (almost 8%), and then Italy (nearly 5%).

Information management

One of Europol's goals is to become "the criminal information hub of the European Union", and a number of developments noted in the report reflect this aim, with significant work going into making the most of the vast amount of information held by the agency.

The number of "objects" listed in the agency's main database, the Europol Information System (EIS), has also increased, with information on 41,193 persons now held - an increase of 5% on 2010. There are 183,240 "objects" listed in the system in total, a 111,110 searches were run through the system in 2011.

Most of the information in the EIS was provided by Germany, with other significant contributors including Belgium, France, Spain and Europol itself, acting on "on behalf of third parties."

The report also notes improvements in the "overall quality of the EIS content," due to changes in Member States' approaches to data collection, and the use of automated data loading systems to put information into the system. Lithuania began using automated data loading in 2011, making it the thirteenth country to do so, and "several other countries are preparing to implement this tool."

Further changes have also been introduced to improve the "interoperability of core information management systems." The new Europol Links Manager (ELM), introduced in October 2011, enables the cross-checking of numerous information repositories and "widens the range of data sources, enhances usability and flexibility, and addresses several important data protection issues."

Extending access

It is now also possible for some "frontline law enforcement officers" to search the EIS, something that was previously only possible for Europol National Units (ENUs), the representatives of the agency in the Member States. Searches by "frontline" officers operate on a hit/no-hit basis, meaning that if a search finds something in the database, the officer is obliged to contact their ENU to obtain the information.

The only national law enforcement agency that has such access to the EIS mentioned in the annual report is the City of London police. According to the Europol Council Decision (the legislation establishing the agency), authorities given permission to search the EIS should be published in the Official Journal of the European Union. [5] So far, this information has not been published, and any other authorities with access to the EIS remain unknown.

Drawing new countries into European policing

In 2011 Interpol, Colombia and Switzerland were all provided with access to the Europol Secure Network, which connects Member States' law enforcement agencies, non-EU countries, and international organisations, and is described as the "backbone" of the agency's telecommunications infrastructure.

Europol also operates a system called SIENA - the Secure Information Exchange Network Application - which permits the exchange of "strategic crime-related information and intelligence".

According to the report, 13697 new cases were initiated via SIENA in 2011, an increase of 17% on the previous year, with a monthly average of over 27,000 messages sent via the network. There are now 287 authorities with access to the network, with 103 added in 2011.

Countries that reached agreements with Europol in 2011 permitting their authorities to use SIENA include Australia, Croatia, Iceland and Norway, and "regional platforms" in Ghana and Senegal have been given access in order to support work undertaken under the European Drugs Pact.

In 2012 Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Switzerland and Turkey will be given access to SIENA, and "work is ongoing to connect SIENA directly to national case management systems, allowing police officers to use one system for both national cases and cases that require international communication."

Homeland security

The report also notes the agency's increasing cooperation with the United States. As well as hosting officials in its offices in The Hague from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the US Secret Service (USSS); the FBI; Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Europol has begun work on a project with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

A "joint project on countering violent extremism" developed out of a meeting between Europol and the DHS in late 2011, and will see the two agencies and authorities from Member States sharing "information on case studies, focusing on suspicious behaviour and other indicators, and develop best practices to counter terrorist radicalisation."

Further details of this cooperation have not yet been made public. However, the DHS has shown interest in some alarmingly invasive projects geared towards "suspicious behaviour and other indicators." One such project has been described as a "'Minority Report' pre-crime detection program."

The DHS program, called FAST (Future Attribute Screening Technology), is intended to determine whether algorithms incorporating factors such as ethnicity, gender, breathing and heart rate "could indicate mal-intent." The system "is designed to track and monitor body movements, voice-pitch and rhythm changes, eye movement, body heat, breathing patterns, blink rate and pupil variation." [6]


Following the July 2011 terrorist attacks by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway, Europol's involvement in the authorities' response to the situation led to an assessment of "the current EU situation in relation to violent extremism and terrorism", with recommendations presented to the Justice and Home Affairs Council in September.

The recommendations included creating a Task Force on Violent Extremism made up of "relevant experts from EU Member States, tasked with researching and reporting on new initiatives to counter violent extremism"; developing an online "portal" for the "exchange of best practice, analysis and assessments"; and the preparation by Europol of "a full EU-wide assessment on the threat posed by individuals and/or groups associated with violent single issue extremism."

This response was described by some as "characteristic of the EU anti-terrorist approach, which consists of relying on the analysis of security experts, the massive gathering, exchange and transfer of information across Member States and with third countries by EU agencies and of assuming as an 'unchallenged mantra' the existence of a nexus between internal and external threats."

The authors went on to say that "the Norway attacks have… shown the potential effects and existing limits of such intelligence-led logic of policing. Their effectiveness should be re-examined at EU level, as is their desirability in light of the inherent challenges they pose to rule of law, accountability and fundamental rights principles." [7]


Europol's approach to policing of what it deems to be "extremism" also came in for criticism in March of this year. A response to a question in the German Bundestag stated that the agency planned to merge its Analysis Work File (AWF) Dolphin on non-Islamist extremism and terrorism with its AWF Hydra, which covers terrorism more generally.

A meeting at which this was to be discussed, described by Europol in response to questions as "an operational meeting for law enforcement participants only" on which "no information can be revealed", also had on the agenda "attacks on railway transports" and the activities of the No Borders network.

The German MP Andrej Hunko stated that "any attempt by Europol to concern itself with antimilitaristic, transport policy, environmental policy or antiracist campaigns is going beyond its mandate," and that the agency "should not be allowed to get involved in political altercations between the EU Member States."

He called upon the German government to "actively oppose the equalisation of left-wing activism with 'terrorism' and 'extremism'" and demanded "full information about contributions made to the conference by the police forces of EU Member States." [8]

So far none of these contributions have come to light.

Accountability and transparency

Europol was originally known as the Europol Drugs Unit (set up in 1993)and had a mandate to "act as a non-operational team for the exchange and analysis of intelligence in relation to illicit drug trafficking, the criminal organisations involved and associated money laundering activities affecting two or more Member States." [9]

Its mandate has been expanded over the years to cover drugs; human trafficking; facilitated illegal immigration; cyber crime; intellectual property crime; cigarette smuggling; Euro counterfeiting; VAT fraud; money laundering; asset tracing; mobile organised crime groups; outlaw motorcycle gangs; and terrorism.

The legislation establishing the agency has been rewritten several times, most recently in 2009, [10] but the agency has never been subject to official scrutiny from either the European or national parliaments. Its priorities are instead set by the Council of the EU.

The Management Board of Europol submits each a year a budget, work programme and general report on its activities to the Council, which then forwards them to the European Parliament "for information."

However, Europol's legal basis is due to be revised within the next year. According to Rob Wainwright, Europol's Director, this is "a great opportunity to further improve Europol's democratic accountability and also to make Europol more effective as an agency."

Judging by the contents of the 2011 annual report, it would seem to be the possibility of making the agency "more effective" that is most interesting to Europol's Management Board.


[1] Euopol, 'General Report on Europol's activities in 2011', 24th May 2012
[2] Working Party on Terrorism, 'Summary of discussions', 25th July 2011
[3] Europol, 'Draft Europol Budget 2008', 16th April 2007
[4] Europol, 'Draft Europol Budget 2009', 28th March 2008
[5] Articles 13(6) and 13(7), Europol Council Decision, 6th April 2009
[6] Kim Zetter, 'DHS launches 'Minority Report' pre-crime detection program', 7th October 2011
[7] Sergio Carrera, Anaïs Faure Atger and Elspeth Guild, 'Investigating the limits of the EU’s counter-terrorism strategy and security politics in light of the attacks in Norway', November 2011
[8] Andrej Hunko, 'Against the criminalization of the no border network via EUROPOL!', 29th March 2012
[9] 'Ministerial agreement on the establishment of the Europol Drugs Unit', 2nd June 1993, document held in Statewatch's JHA archive - EU Justice and Home Affairs documents from 1976 onwards.
[10] Europol Council Decision, 6th April 2009

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