EU: Wiretapping: New high-level police working group to formulate "a joint response to the impending massive impacts of 5G"

A new senior police working group will try to advance the police demand to retain wiretapping abilities with 5G technology. However, the technical architecture of 5G makes this extremely difficult, if not impossible. The German Presidency is seeking formal recognition from the Council's Law Enforcement Working Party for this new body, named the 'European Heads of Lawful Interception Units'. As well as EU and Schengen states, the UK will apparently also be involved.


See: NOTE from: Presidency to: Delegations: Lawful Interception - Strengthening EU cooperation (11517/20, LIMITE, 13 October 2020, pdf):

The document notes that the "primary aim" of the European Heads of Lawful Interception Units is:

"to facilitate better cooperation and mutual understanding of the needs, challenges and priorities of lawful interception (LI) units within the member states."

The reasons for this new structure are "the impending massive impacts of 5G", which will make traditional methods of telecommunications interception redundant.

See this Statewatch analysis from last year for an overview of the issues at hand: A world without wiretapping? Official documents highlight concern over effects 5G technology will have on “lawful interception” (29 May 2019)

The Presidency's note says the objectives of the new group "could be specified as follows:

  • Identifying challenges;
  • Discussing potential solutions (in the technical as well as legislative domain);
  • Updating and sharing information and expertise on relevant developments in the members’ area of expertise;
  • Exploring mutual learning and training opportunities;
  • Link with and contribute to foster standardization activities in the field of lawful interception,
  • Proposing joint initiatives at EU level;
  • Providing input for Europol to facilitate law enforcement representation at the EU level. EC3 [the European Cybercrime Centre] and Europol in general may consult the group on any matters relating to the group's domain and area of expertise."

The document notes that:

"The scope of the group is restricted to operational issues and challenges with regard to lawful interception of criminal communication."

The coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on the group's work, with an initial in-person meeting that was due to take place in Hamburg this month cancelled. According to the document, the meeting will be rescheduled to a yet-to-be-decided date in 2021.

A number of EU member states are set to be involved in the group - Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. Europol will also be involved.

However, there will also be "third partner countries" present - Norway, Switzerland and Iceland (all Schengen Associated Countries) and, more surprisingly, the UK. It is not clear what legal framework this cooperation with a non-EU, non-Schengen state will be based on.

See: NOTE from: Presidency to: Delegations: Lawful Interception - Strengthening EU cooperation (11517/20, LIMITE, 13 October 2020, pdf)

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