The spider's web: Europol goes global in the hunt for intelligence and analysis:
Part 2

Once you're in, you're in?

Questions remain over what happens to data gathered by police using methods that even at a time of limited legal standards were later deemed illegal. Third countries that transmit information to Europol are obliged to provide an assessment of the information and its source, in line with the standards Europol itself uses. If they do not do so, Europol has to undertake its own assessment.

This assessment of quality, however, is not accompanied by an assessment of legality. [6] Europol has been criticised in the past for holding data on a group of 33 young women "indicating they were prostitutes and suspects of criminal activity," according to a report produced for the European Parliament in 2011. [7]

"However, when these entries were traced back to the Member State," says the study, "it appeared that the majority of women were in fact likely victims of trafficking, and that there was not sufficient evidence to hold them in the Europol system as suspects."

A year later, this "erroneous data" was still being held within Europol's systems, despite the agency being made aware of the issue by the UK representative on the Joint Supervisory Board. Problems in obtaining redress for individuals whose information is held on multinational or networked national databases have been found in numerous other instances over the years. [8]

The European Parliament's report noted that there is "a worrying scope for erroneous data, which could have serious repercussions for individuals in a particularly vulnerable position, implying not only a violation of the right to data protection, but, if this were to lead to their treatment by national authorities of Member States as criminals rather than victims, then also a breach of their right to good administration and an effective legal remedy."

It goes on to criticise Europol for its history in upholding the rights of the data subject, saying that its track record with regard to allowing subjects access to and correction of data "has been mixed."

A vote in favour?

Human rights advocates in Georgia have made clear that while there have been some improvements in the policies governing and practices of the country's law enforcement agencies, many problems still remain. Meanwhile, the largest political group in the European Parliament has launched a blistering attack on the country's respect for human rights and democratic standards.

In February the conservative European People's Party (EPP) condemned Georgia for continuously "breaching democratic rules" since the October 2012 elections.

Violent clashes followed a Presidential speech outside Georgia's National Library in early February, and the EPP was quick to issue a damning statement on what it called "intolerable acts". The Party's press statement went on to say that:

"The relations between the EU and Georgia are based on the conviction that we share the same values and principles and on our joint commitment to promote them. The current negotiations of the Association Agreement between the EU and Georgia are conducted in this same framework. Unfortunately, we all must admit that the conditions to continue such a dialogue between the EU and Georgia are not met anymore. This is very regrettable but the EU cannot compromise its basic values and democratic standards." [9]

Pushing ahead

Despite these protestations, at the end of February the European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström presented the Georgian government with its "Action Plan on Visa Liberalisation" which is "structured in four blocks of measures dealing respectively with document security, border and migration management, public order and security, and relevant external relations issues."

"Georgian authorities are encouraged to continue working hand in hand to pursue the necessary reforms in all the areas relevant for the visa liberalisation dialogue, including: fight against corruption and organised crime, data protection, anti-discrimination and protection of minorities, as well as judicial reform aiming at ensuring the independence of the justice system," said Malmström. [10] The Action Plan and related documents will only be released to the public if the Georgian government decides to do so, the Commission told Statewatch.

The delivery of the EU's Action Plan seems to have shocked the EPP into silence. Statewatch asked the party whether it would be voicing a negative opinion on Europol's proposals for a cooperation agreement with Georgia when the issue comes up for discussion in the LIBE Committee, but received no response. It seems that Europol may soon have one more partner in the Black Sea region, alongside Moldova, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.

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[6] Europol: "4x4" intelligence handling codes includes "dodgy data", Statewatch News Online, January 2013
[7] Elspeth Guild, Sergio Carrera, Leonhard den Hertog, Joanna Parkin, Implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and its Impact on EU Home Affairs Agencies: Frontex, Europol and the European Asylum Support Office, August 2011
[8] Commission failing to follow the rules on the operation of EURODAC, Statewatch News Online, 5 July 2012; Still 46 EU citizens wrongly on the Schengen Information System, Statewatch News Online, February 2007; Still a total of 414 EU citizens wrongly put on the Schengen Information System - Switzerland tops the list by a mile, Statewatch News Online, April 2006; Football fans taken off records, Statewatch Bulletin Vol 6 No 4
[9] European People's Party, Georgia: EPP shocked by violent acts against UNM parliamentarians; conditions for EU-Georgia dialogue not anymore met, 13 February 2013
[10] Commissioner Malmström presents Action Plan on Visa Liberalisation with Georgia, European Commission press release, 25 February 2013

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