Total information awareness for law enforcement: "turning point" reached, says EU police technology network

Police foresee immediate 24/7 access to data/profiles, images, videos, biometrics on everyone stopped, checked or under surveillance with automatic flagging on what action to take --- Mobile technologies to access ID profiles from local, national and international records, gather photos and videos and be used for covert surveillance

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The European Network of Law Enforcement Technology Services (ENLETS), an informal group funded currently funded by the European Commission, has produced a report on 'best practices in mobile solutions' (LIMITE doc no: 10127-17, pdf) which sees developments in mobile technologies, telecoms networks and 'cloud' computing as a "game-changer" for total information awareness for law enforcement authorities. The report foresees police smartphones, smartwatches or other devices having instant, 24/7 access to a complete profile on individuals from data gathered and stored locally, nationally or internationally.

Out with the old and in with the new

According to ENLETS:

"A turning point has been reached where the police can deploy mobile solutions for most or all of their operational police officers and work processes. Mobile technology is now a disruptive force for reform - a game-changer for the police. This report is therefore a wake-up call to law enforcement services to consider how they can take advantage of this step-change… or allow themselves to fall behind." [emphasis added]

This "turning point" is based, firstly, on the "rapidly increasing" number of information sources - for example "Social media, multimedia, Internet of Things, trackers and tracers, inter officer chat," all of which are becoming instantly available to law enforcement officers "without the direct need for back office intervention."

Secondly, the report argues, there is the issue of increasing numbers of sensors and automation:

"the old "pull" concept of typing in a question and waiting for an answer from a background system is disappearing. Smartphones have sensors, they know who you are, what your skills are, your preferences, your tasks, whether you are walking, running or driving, they know where you are and what is relevant there. They can recognize faces, voices and fingerprints. They are able to combine all that data into context relevant information and provide you with it at the right time, or the right location. Without being asked for it." [emphasis added]

According to the group, we will soon be at a point where "there will be a symbiotic relationship between a user (policeman) and his wearable devices," with automatic sensors and systems constantly providing information from a whole host of sources without even being prompted.

Thus there is a need not just for new approaches to designing mobile technologies for law enforcement, "but also a new way of looking at the organization of policing." New technologies mean that the police "will be able to do completely new things" (emphasis in original).

Cross-border surveillance and covert policing

We have not yet, however, arrived in the age of total information awareness.

Smurfer, a cross-border policing exercise recently conducted by ENLETS, "painfully showed" the limits of current systems, according to the report, making clear that:

"operational actors involved in cross-border surveillance and covert operations lack technical tools that enable efficient and effective bilateral and group messaging, exchange of photos, videos and/or documents or tracking of the important movements of people, goods or vehicles." [emphasis added]

Currently there are numerous centralised EU databases for law enforcement and border control (the Schengen Information System, the Visa Information System, Eurodac as well as the forthcoming Entry/Exit System and European Travel Information and Authorisation System) and various networks of national systems (such as the Prüm system for fingerprints, DNA and vehicle registration data and the European Criminal Records Information System).

The ENLETS report notes that in the future, "the primary access to security and border related data" held in such systems "will be through mobile devices," permitting "direct, operational use" that will "dictate new rules for the way national and European systems function. This will strongly influence the usage of databases as currently being reviewed by the High Level expert group" (emphasis added).

All on board for interoperability

The High-Level Expert Group on Interoperability and Information Systems was convened by the European Commission in mid-2016 and its May 2017 final report (pdf) was swiftly welcomed by the Commission and the Council.

The High-Level Group called for a Single Search Interface (SSI) allowing simultaneous searches across all EU law enforcement and border control information systems; and two huge databases: one containing biometric data (fingerprints and facial images) and the other containing alphanumeric biographical and identity data, which would be gathered and shared by various different EU systems. A key role in developing these systems is foreseen for the EU Agency for Large-Scale IT Systems (eu-LISA, based in Tallinn).

ENLETS also foresees a role for eu-LISA, arguing that the agency is "a possible candidate to implement and operate" a centralised system capable of "efficient and effective bilateral and group messaging, exchange of photos, videos and/or documents or tracking of the important movements of people, goods or vehicles" to be used during cross-border and covert operations.

The report highlights a significant problem with this proposal:

"As mandate limitations appear to limit the Agency’s possibility to develop any such system, the ENLETS mobile group requests update of this mandate at the earliest possible opportunity, offering the chance to develop a mission-critical application usable by all Member States once suitable resources are made available." [emphasis added]

An attempt to remedy this is being made with a proposal for a new legal basis for the agency, published by the European Commission. Article 12 of the proposal is explicitly designed to "help Member States better aligning national infrastructures to EU systems," including through "the setting up of mobile solutions." The Commission is due to publish a further legal proposal on interoperability later this year.

The report's final recommendation to the Law Enforcement Working Party (LEWP), the Council group to which it reports, also calls for the LEWP to request that:

"ENLETS / ENLETS Mobile explores urgently with eu-LISA the possibility of establishing a European 24/7 centralised infrastructure for bilateral exchange in operations /secure messaging, as provisionally discussed at the most recent meeting of ENLETS Mobile in May 2017 in Athens."

This would be used for "for secure mobile communication between MSs to support better cross-border operations including covert work."

Mobile ID checks "as a mandatory first step in any process"

The report notes that the "real benefit of mobile policing" is:

"standardization and optimization of best practices and procedures where it has until now been extremely difficult to achieve: at the operational level, on the beat. It is also a major factor in combatting data quality problems: careful design of the user-device interaction right at the start of the process has the potential to remedy a large part of the problem. For this reason some countries are now focusing on thorough ID checks as a mandatory first step in any process." [emphasis added]

The head of ENLETS, Patrick Padding, is a Dutch police official, and it is his state's police force that seem to be most advanced in their use of mobile technologies. A table at the end of the report notes that 50,000 Dutch National Police officers are equipped with smartphones, according to information provided to recent ENLETS meetings or through surveys.

The Netherlands is followed by Sweden, with 27,000 smartphones for police; Norway has given 11,000 devices to officers; Denmark 10,000; the UK's 43 different police forces have different systems in place (it is noted that West Yorkshire Police have 6,000 smartphones in use); while in Greece a "Smart Policing Project" that "will use mobiles" has been launched and "ENLETS Mobile experts will help."

In Hamburg, meanwhile, the table states, the police have: "1,400 smartphones + pilot link to patrol cars. Will be deployed for G20 conference in July 2017," while for border control both Poland and Finland are working "on-train border control" and eu-LISA and Frontex have developed experience in "interoperability for migrant enrolment" through their work in the EU's "hotspots" in Italy and Greece.

Legal issues?

Technology is not the only stumbling block to realising this vision of total information awareness. The report does not mention data protection by name once, although it does note that:

"Europol opinion is that legality of data processing, the proper logging and recording of communication, the adherence to security standards and anticipating a level of scalability that allows for sustainable growth are key points to address." [emphasis added]

Neither is ENLETS' vision likely to be easy to achieve on an organisational level. As the report itself states:

"Implementing mobile solutions in policing on a large scale is a major undertaking... it involves an integral change process on most aspects of the organization and as such strategic level priority is called for."

The 'ENLETS mobile group', which is responsible for the report, came from a merger between ENLETS and e-MOBIDIG ('European Mobile Identification Interoperability Group'), another informal group which emerged in 2008 following an EU conference on mobile identification technologies for law enforcement and border control.

Further reading

EU funding for network developing surveillance, intelligence-gathering and remote vehicle stopping tools (Statewatch News Online, January 2015)

EU: Police forces get ready for multi-billion euro policing and security funds (Statewatch News Online, June 2014)

EU: New police cooperation plan includes surveillance, intelligence-gathering and remote vehicle stopping technology(Statewatch News Online, January 2014)


EU wastes no time welcoming prospect of Big Brother databases (Statewatch News)

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