Slovenia: New Europol mandate expected by end of this year

Slovenian Interior Minister Ales Hojs at the start of an extraordinary EU Justice and Home Affairs Council in Brussels, Belgium, 31 August 2021. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

The European Commission, Parliament, and Council will start negotiating the final version of Europol’s new mandate on Wednesday (27 October), which could be ready by December,  Slovenia’s interior minister Aleš Hojs told in an interview.

According to him, “positions of the Council and the European Parliament are quite close on that issue”, and a political agreement on the revised Europol mandate could be expected “by the end of this year”.

The role of the EU’s law enforcement cooperation agency is mainly to gather data for cross-border investigations and make it available to national authorities. Until now, the EU agency was unathorised to create its own alerts for potential suspects, something which is due to change with the new mandate that includes a reform of the Schengen Information System (SIS), the largest European dataset for border management.

Europol has developed expertise in crunching large amounts of data to identify criminal profiles, which put the EU body at odds with the European Data Protection Supervisor last year.

The recast mandate significantly expands the agency’s capacity in this field, enabling EU criminal experts to cooperate with private parties, process personal data in support of criminal investigations, and develop AI tools.

As the European Parliament adopted the reform last week, critics of the recast mandate argued it contradicted a recent resolution on the use of AI by police in Europe. The resolution opposed using automated tools to “predict” criminal behaviour and called for a ban on biometric mass surveillance.

MEPs demand strict rules over AI applications in criminal matters

Ahead of the artificial intelligence regulation, MEPs insisted that its use by law enforcement authorities and in the judiciary be subject to tight controls in Strasbourg on Monday (October 4).

“Criminals have adapted their modus operandi to the new digital reality, and consequently it is necessary to enable Europol to better support member states in the fight against these evolving security threats,” rapporteur Javier Zarzalejos (EPP) told MEPs.

”The exchange of the data is very important, member states agree because we all know from the past that this has also helped to prevent some terrorist attacks across the bloc,” Slovenian interior minister Hojs told EURACTIV ahead of the negotiations.

Civil rights groups say the proposed mandate represents a “blank cheque” for the police to create AI systems that risk undermining fundamental human rights.

Asked whether he agreed with concerns over the uses of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data analytics in criminal justice, Hojs said this would “absolutely not” be the case as it “would be foolish if we would not give such tools to our law enforcement, to our policemen.”

“If we are asked how to protect our children, I don’t think anyone would put privacy concerns over human well-being, with all the proper safeguards, of course,” Hojs said.

“Such kinds of tools are developed for very specific needs of the police, and we will be very strictly monitoring their use not to let anyone abuse the collected data,” he added.

According to the new proposal, Europol will also process data from private providers and third countries that do not have solid data protection laws.

Europol nears stronger mandate for data-driven policing capacities

Europol, the EU’s law enforcement cooperation agency, is approaching the finishing line to get a broader mandate, legitimising data processing practices that spurred controversy last year.

“The possibility for Europol to receive and analyse the personal data, acquired from private parties is an important solution which would enable faster and more efficient investigations for law enforcement authorities,” Hojs said but did not say whether Europol will be able to share data from EU citizens with third countries.

Javier Zarzalejos, the leading negotiator from the Parliament’s side, has expressed views very close to the needs of law enforcement authorities. However, in the compromise text, some safeguards have been added.

The more controversial point will almost certainly be the reform of the SIS system, which several EU governments adverse because they consider it curtails a key national competence.

[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/ Alice Taylor]

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