The EU’s law enforcement agency, Europol, has had a mixed bag of results recently, ranging from a sensitive data leak scandal and unprecedented success in fighting cybercrime, to an odd festive social media campaign. EURACTIV Germany reports.
Handling confidential and sensitive data is one of the main responsibilities of the Hague-based police authority. But last Wednesday (30 November), Europol was forced to admit that information on numerous terrorism investigations was leaked online.
Europol spokesperson Gerald Hesztera said that a former employee and Dutch policeman had taken sensitive information home in a “clear breach” of the agency’s policy.
ALDE spokesperson Sophie in ‘t Veld later said that the leak was “shocking” and criticised Europol for “knowing about the vulnerability since September and choosing not to tell the European Parliament”.
The Dutch politician also added that “data protection is crucial for the exchange of information and cooperation between police authorities”. ALDE insisted that it would be calling for a parliamentary inquiry into Europol’s operations and an explanation from agency chief Rob Wainwright and Security Commissioner Julian King.
— Sophie in 't Veld (@SophieintVeld) November 30, 2016
The nearly 700 pages of confidential data contained analysis on terrorist groups, including the names and contact data of hundreds of people with terrorist connections. Hesztera insisted that the data had not been posted on the internet “maliciously”. Ongoing investigations allegedly remain unaffected.
Beyond this embarrassing episode, Europol has had a number of successes recently. In an unprecedented operation, the agency together with national police authorities managed to quash an extensive network of cyber criminals. The ring was responsible for hundreds of millions of euros in losses caused by online fraud. Five people were arrested and 39 servers were seized.
In addition, hundreds of thousands of internet domains controlled by the self-styled “Avalanche” group were blocked. “We have cut off the head of this snake,” said Europol’s head of cyber crime, Fernando Ruiz.
In May, Europol’s competences will be expanded, as it is set to be given authority over people trafficking, as well as the illegal trade in human organs, weapons and drugs. New regulations are expected to increase its cooperation with national bodies.
Under its new European Counter Terrorism Centre, Europol wants to expand its reach in terms of tackling terrorism. How the law enforcement agency handles sensitive data will likely take on an even more significant dimension when it is responsible for even more aspects of cross-border crime fighting.
More bizarrely, Europol embarked on a festive social media campaign on 1 December. It launched a Christmas advent calendar of its most wanted criminals, with one different villain set to be revealed every day up until the 25th. The scheme, beyond raising the profile of the agency, hopes to “give Europe a good Christmas present”, by capturing some of the 24 fugitives.