EU: Council seeks information exchange amongst law enforcement authorities that is "swift, effective, simple and without unnecessary formal requirements"

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Recent evaluations of EU mechanisms for information exchange amongst Member States' law enforcement authorities have not been particularly positive. Last October's assessment of the Swedish Framework Decision found that it had not been implemented by all Member States and had "not yet reached its full potential". [1] A recent review of the Prüm Decisions found that the implementation process (still ongoing in most Member States) has been "complex, technically fraught, and expensive". [2]

The Council is now seeking ways to "further enhance efficient cross-border exchange of law enforcement information", and has published a draft set of Conclusions on the matter demanding the full implementation and application of "all existing legal instruments for the exchange of law enforcement information, in particular the Swedish Framework Decision, the Prüm Decisions and the CBE Directive". [3]

The Council is hoping Member States will push ahead in establishing permanent central offices for information exchange and that Joint Investigation Teams will enhance their information exchange procedures. At the same time, the Council appears to be overlooking the need to respect the fundamental right of data protection.

Member States are invited to establish a "Single Point of Contact covering all channels" (i.e. one national office to which requests for information can be made), and to "promote mutual exchange of personnel involved in cross border exchange of information". This will be covered in training courses provided by the European Police College during 2012. [4]

Europol is invited to "gather the business requirements for the exchange of information and case management within Joint Investigation Teams (JITs)…and to accommodate those needs by means of its information exchange tool SIENA". JITs are "set up on the basis of an agreement between two or more Member States and/or other parties, for a specific purpose and limited duration." [5]

An emphasis on strengthening the abilities of JITs can be found elsewhere in the conclusions. Two paragraphs on this issue were inserted at the behest of Europol. Along with the recent strengthening of Europol's role in dealing with serious organised crime, [6] this will give a further boost to the agency.

At the end of 2012, the Commission is due to present a Communication on the European Information Exchange Model (EIXM), intended to provide "recommendations for achieving better coherence and consolidation in the area of information exchange". It remains to be seen whether this will take data protection as a fundamental consideration, or follow the path of the Council.

In the Conclusions, the need for information exchange that is "swift, effective, simple and without unnecessary formal requirements" is buttressed by a requirement for "proportionate data protection safeguards". The inclusion of the word "proportionate" is notable, as is the fact that this sentence contains the only mention of data protection in the Conclusions (which make no reference to fundamental rights), and it was added to the initial draft only at the request of the UK delegation.

[1] Presidency, 'Council Framework Decision 2006/960/JHA on simplifying the exchange of information and intelligence between law enforcement authorities of the Member States of the European Union ("Swedish Framework Decision") - Assessment of compliance pursuant to Article 11(2) - Draft Report', 13 September 2011, p.4.
[2] Presidency, 'Implementation of the Prüm Decisions - lessons learned', 20 December 2011, p.4
[3] CBE refers to Directive 2011/82/EU of 25 October 2011 facilitating the cross-border exchange of information on road safety related traffic offences, which has a final date for implementation of 7 November 2013.
[4] CEPOL European Police Exchange Programme 2012, 'Handbook for participants', p.6
[5] Council Secretariat, 'Joint Investigation Teams Manual', 4 November 2011, p.2
[6] Presidency, 'Amending the COSPOL framework into [EMPACT]', 3 November 2011

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