EU must reconsider the expansion of Europol’s data processing powers

Article by Fair Trials

Fair Trials has joined European Digital Rights (EDRi) and 21 other civil society organisations to call on the EU to reconsider the expansion of Europol’s data processing powers. The joint letter was addressed to the Council and European Parliament representatives, ahead of discussions today on Europol’s capabilities.

Europol collects and holds a vast amount of extremely sensitive personal data in its databases and information systems. This data collection is “excessive by any standard for a police authority,” states the letter.

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) recently ordered Europol to delete personal data it had unlawfully amassed and processed. The EDPS’ decision highlighted that no law enforcement agency should be allowed to operate without accountability or oversight.

However, EU negotiations about Europol’s powers undermine this decision.

The Council of the EU and the European Parliament have been negotiating behind closed doors on new legislation on Europol’s mandate. The proposal includes a carve-out to allow Europol to bypass its own rules. It would effectively give Europol the power to use its data for predictive policing, which is known to reproduce and exacerbate discrimination based on race, ethnicity, nationality, socio-economic status and other grounds.

The French Presidency of the Council has also proposed a workaround to the EDPS’s decision, allowing the retroactive legalisation of Europol’s illegal processing of data. “Legalising existing unlawful practices, especially if done with retrospective effects, runs counter to the basic rule of law principles on which the Union is founded, ” states the report.

By undermining the decision of the European Data Protection Supervisor, policymakers are effectively saying that Europol can operate without accountability. Oversight loses its meaning if we fail to hold organisations to account for their actions. Europol’s excessive use of data threatens fundamental rights, including the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. We must make is clear that no law enforcement agency is exempt from human rights obligations.

Laure Baudrihaye-Gérard
Legal Director (Europe), Fair Trials

The joint letter calls for EU policymakers to reconsider the reform of the Europol regulation, including the need to:

  • Abandon any attempt to annul the effects of the EDPS decision;
  • Renounce giving Europol more operational powers to process data in ways that its current rules forbid;
  • Reinforce data protection safeguards;
  • Guarantee independent oversight of Europol.