Commission calls for online ‘battering rams’ to break encryption

Commission presents strategy to fight organised crime and human trafficking. [Shutterstock/LeoWolfert]

The EU executive will help countries work on encryption-breaking for when law enforcement has legal access to the information as part of a strategy to fight organised crime presented on Wednesday (14 April).

“Police raids have battering rams to break doors when they have legal access and we need online tools to open doors”, Commissioner Ylva Johansson told journalists.

“Of course we should use keys when we can. but battering rams, when we must,” the EU’s home affairs chief added.

Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas said there is a need for a European approach to tackle organised crime groups because they operate cross-borders, generate “colossal proceeds” and have found ways of optimising their illegal activities through technologies.

More than 70% of criminal groups are active in at least three EU countries, while their activity generates €139 billion, equivalent to about 1% of the bloc’s GDP, a Commission study estimated.

The Commission wants EU cooperation to focus on cybercrime, counterfeiting, environmental crime, and trafficking in human beings and cultural goods.

Besides expanding and updating existing programs and frameworks, the Commission will finalise a EU Police Cooperation Code which will streamline the current patchwork of various EU tools and multilateral cooperation agreements with the goal of achieving bloc-wide interoperability of security, border and migration management IT systems.

The Commission will also ask member states to allow it to negotiate a cooperation agreement with Interpol, and look into drafting legislation that would enshrine EMPACT into law, an existing project from 2010 to fight organised and serious international crime, to expand and make it more financially sustainable.

Medical product counterfeiting

The EU executive will take a particularly close look at how to coordinate action on tackling medical product counterfeiting.

In its flagship four-yearly report released on Monday, the EU’s policing agency Europol said criminals are offering fake coronavirus vaccines and home-testing kits as they seek to capitalise on global efforts to recover from the virus.

Covid, cocaine take Europe to 'breaking point', says Europol

The coronavirus pandemic could fuel organised crime for years to come in Europe, a continent already at “breaking point” from an unprecedented flood of cocaine, the EU’s policing agency warned Monday (12 April).

Criminalising using services of victims

The Commission also presented its updated strategy for fighting human trafficking, a crime with 14,145 victims registered across the EU-27 between 2017-2018 alone, though the actual number is likely to be significantly higher.

Worryingly, the number of victims continues to rise, up from 10,998 registered in 2012.

60% of the registered victims were trafficked for sexual exploitation, nearly three quarters are female, and 22% children.

EU citizens accounted for about half  of all registered victims with Romania, Hungary, France, the Netherlands and Bulgaria the top five countries in terms of victims’ citizenship.

Traffickers made an estimated profit of €2.7 billion in a single year.

Johansson said she wants to transform trafficking from a “low risk, high profit” crime to a “high profit, low risk” activity.

Asked by EURACTIV how the current strategy will ensure improvement of the situation, despite the worrying numerical trend, the Commissioner said “we are already in a better place than we were 10 years ago”.

A decade ago, trafficking in human being was an “unseen crime on the European level” but there is more awareness now, according to the Commissioner.

Johansson highlighted the need for more specialised prosecutors and for EU countries to better protect victims.

The Commissioner also floated criminalising the use of services of victims of trafficking in an update to the 2011 Anti-trafficking Directive that already criminalised their employment.

“I will go after the member state with infringement procedures, those that have not implemented anti trafficking directive properly,” Johansson added.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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