What is Europol?
Europol is the European Union enforcement agency that handles criminal intelligence towards cooperation in the European Union. Its mission is to assist the law enforcement authorities of Member States in their fight against serious forms of organised crime. Europol collects and analyses personal information on individuals from police authorities in all Member States relating to the crimes mentioned below.
It has unique crime-fighting capabilities with powerful data set to fulfil its aim – improving the effectiveness of, and co-operation between, the competent authorities of the Member States in preventing and combating serious international crime such as:
- drug trafficking;
- illegal immigration networks;
- forgery of money;
- trafficking in human beings, including child pornography;
- illegal vehicle trafficking and
- money laundering.
Europol has no executive powers and its officials cannot arrest suspects or act without the approval of national authorities. However, the support Europol provides consists of tools that can contribute to measures carried out by the relevant national authorities. These methods are:
- a fast exchange of information;
- sophisticated intelligence analysis;
- co-ordination, expertise and training.
The idea of establishing some form of cooperation between European polices forces derives parallel with the European Union itself. The first step was made in the 1970s, with creation of the Trevi group, although the first concrete step was made within the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, more precisely Article K1 (9) of the Treaty which stipulates that European Police Office (Europol) should be establish for the purposes of the police cooperation. Formalization of the Europol started with the formation of the Europol Drug Units in 1993, but very soon on 29 October 1993, the European Council decided that Europol should be established in The Hague. The formal status of the Europol was accomplished with the Convention on the establishment of a European Police Office (hereinafter: Europol Convention) – valid until 31.12.2009 – that came into force on 1 October 1998 and provided Europol the legal basis to carry out its tasks more efficiently and effectively.
On 1 January 2010 the Europol Convention was replaced by the Council Decision of 6 April 2009 establishing the European Police Office (EUROPOL) (hereinafter: Europol Council Decision) .
One change introduced by the Europol Council Decision is that Europol now has a real independent legal capacity as a community agency with all rights and obligations. Financing of Europol is now directly dependent on the general budget of the EU; this means that the European Parliament has to adopt it. Furthermore, Europol has been given competences extending beyond organised crime (such as murder, organised or armed robbery, swindling and rape) and covering all forms of serious cross-border crime. The new Europol is able to use new data-processing tools and be subject to new personal data protection provisions. As regards its tasks, Europol is now able to provide support (not operational, but more in terms of analysis) to Member States in connection with the organisation of international events with a public order policing impact. It can henceforth receive information from private bodies for use in the framework of its traditional activities. As regards the collection, processing and utilisation of personal data, the Europol Council Decision takes account of the Council Framework Decision 2008/977/JHA of 27 November 2008 on the protection of personal data processed in the framework of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. A new post of Data Protection Officer was created, with independent duties and free access to all the data held by Europol and to all its premises. The Officer has the task of ensuring compliance with the provisions, including the protection of all personal data processed by Europol.
The Europol Joint Supervisory Body (JSB)
1. General Information
The JSB Europol is an independent entity set up to review the activities of Europol in order to ensure that the rights of the individual are safeguarded during the storage, processing and utilization of personal data held by Europol. The JSB was established in 1998, at the same time as Europol.
2. Legal Basis
As the legal basis for the functioning of Europol changed on 1 January 2010, the legal basis for the functioning of the JSB changed accordingly. The JSB’s new legal basis is therefore Article 34 of the Europol Council Decision:
“An independent Joint Supervisory Body shall be set up to review in accordance with the Decision, the activities of Europol in order to ensure the rights of the individual are not violated by the storage, processing and use of the data held by Europol…”
The previous legal basis for the establishment and functioning of the JSB was Article 24 of the Europol Convention.
Compared to Article 24 of the Europol Convention, Article 34 of the Europol Council Decision is very similar. Only small changes were made – the activity report has to be forwarded not only to the European Council, but also to the European Parliament and the needed majority for the adoption of the JSB’s rules of procedure is prescribed.
3. Composition and Status
The JSB is composed of two representatives of each of the national Supervisory Bodies who are appointed for a period of five years by each Member State. Each delegation is entitled to one vote for decision making purposes. Each member may have an alternate.
In order to guarantee independence, the Europol Council Decision states that the members of the JSB shall not receive instruction from any other body. The JSB is an independent body with real authority powers.
4. Competencies and tasks
The main aim of the JSB is independently to review, in accordance with the Europol Council Decision, the activities of Europol to make sure the rights concerned individuals are not violated by the storage, processing and use of the data held by Europol. One way in which the JSB fulfils this general task is by carrying out inspections of Europol.
Under the Europol Council Decision, the JSB is also responsible for considering whether Europol is following the principles of data protection in a number of specific areas.
The JSB is responsible for upholding the rights that individuals have in relation to their personal information. This includes considering the appeals of individuals who have requested access to their information but who are not satisfied with Europol’s response.
To ensure that the JSB remains a transparent body, the Europol Council Decision requires the JSB to publish an activity report at regular intervals.
The JSB has the following tasks:
- to examine the orders opening a data file;
- to examine the provisions concerning the drawing up of reports on the retrieval of personal data;
- to examine the general rules for the communication of personal data by the Europol to third states and third bodies;
- to examine the questions relating to implementation and interpretation of the Europol Council Decision in connection with Europol’s activities as regards the processing and utilization of personal data;
- to examine the questions relating to checks carried out independently by the national supervisory bodies of the Member States;
- to examine the questions relating to the exercise of the right to information;
- to examine the questions relating to the drawing up the harmonized proposals for common solutions to existing problems;
- to examine the lawfulness and accuracy of possible collection, storage, processing and utilization of personal data by Europol at the request of an individual.
5. Operation and functioning
The JSB has meetings at least four times a year. Furthermore, the JSB meets at the initiative of the chairman and whenever at least three delegations submit a written proposal stating reasons, or present an oral proposal in a previous meeting. The chairman of the Management Board and the director of Europol are entitled to propose items for inclusion on the agenda and to propose that the JSB be convened.
The notice convening the meeting is transmitted in time to arrive at least two weeks before the meeting, except in cases which the chairman deems to be urgent. The notice includes the provisional agenda and the documents needed for the meeting, unless the nature of those documents does not allow so. The final agenda is adopted at the beginning of each meeting.
Only, if at least two thirds of the delegations attend at the meeting, the meeting will be considered as effective. The simple majority of the delegations attending the meeting is needed for decisions-making procedure. In case of a tied vote, the chairman has a casting vote. Decisions of the JSB may be taken by written procedure in so far as all delegations have approved this procedure in a meeting. The chairman is also entitled to initiate the written procedure in urgent cases. If the decision is to be taken in written, the chairman transmits a draft decision to the members of the JSB. If delegations do not object to the draft decision, translated into their respective languages, within a period specified by the chairman of at least 14 days after the receipt, the proposal shall be deemed to be adopted.
The meetings of the JSB are not public. The JSB’s documents are confidential, unless the JSB decides otherwise.
The JSB elects a chairman and a deputy chairman from among its members by a majority of two thirds of the votes cast in a secret ballot by the delegations attending the meeting. The chairman represents the JSB and chairs the meetings, monitors the smooth functioning of its work, convenes the meetings of the JSB, determinates the venue, date and time of such meetings, opens and closes the meetings, prepares the provisional agenda and ensures the execution of the decisions of the JSB. The deputy chairman acts for the chairman if she/he is not able to attend.
On 12 October 2009, Nataša Pirc Musar, the Information Commissioner of Slovenia, has been elected as deputy chairman (vice president) of the JSB for the term of two years.
6. Personal Data Processed by Europol
To perform its tasks, Europol maintains an IT database. Under no circumstances may this database be linked to other automated processing systems, except for the systems of the national units. The national units are responsible for the security of data-processing equipment and for carrying out checks on the storage and deletion of data files. The system is made up of three components: the IT information system, work files and index system.
The information system may only be used to store, modify and utilise data that are necessary for the performance of Europol's tasks. The system does not contain data on related criminal offences. The data concern persons who, under the national law of a Member State, are suspected of having committed or having taken part in a criminal offence for which Europol is competent or who have been convicted of such an offence. The system also contains data concerning persons who are suspected of planning to commit criminal offences for which Europol is competent.
Personal data may only include the following details:
- surname, given names and any alias or assumed name;
- date and place of birth;
- place of residence, profession and whereabouts of the person concerned;
- social security numbers, driving licences, identification documents and passport data;
- other characteristics likely to assist in identification, such as any specific objective physical characteristics not subject to change such as dactyloscopic data and DNA profile.
The information system also includes the following details:
- criminal offences, alleged crimes and where and when they were committed;
- means that were or may have been used to commit the crimes;
- the departments handling the case and their file references;
- suspected membership of a criminal organisation;
- convictions relating to criminal offences for which Europol is competent;
- inputting party.
Work files: Europol may store, modify and use data concerning criminal offences in respect of which is competent, including data on the related criminal offences in analysis work files. The processing of personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs or trade-union membership and the processing of data concerning health or sex life shall not be permitted unless strictly necessary for the purposes of the file concerned and unless such data supplement other personal data already input in that file.
Analysis work files are opened for the purposes of analysis defined as the assembly, processing or use of data with the aim of assisting criminal investigations. As regards analysis work files, Europol is required to delete them after a period of 3 years, unless, at the end of this period, it considered the continuation of a given file to be strictly necessary. In this case, files could be continued for new periods of three years.
Index system: An index function is created by Europol for the data stored in the analyses work files. The Director, the Deputy Director, duly empowered members of national units have the right to access the index function. Access to the index function is defined in such a way that it is possible to determinate whether or not item information is stored in an analysis work file, but not to establish connections or further conclusions regarding the content of the file.
7. What are your rights in relation to your personal data processed in the Europol?
Right of access
- You have the right to access any information that Europol may hold on you, or you can ask to have this information checked. There is no charge for this.
- Europol has to deal fully with your request within three months.
- However, Europol may refuse to provide access to your information if it is necessary to:
- enable Europol to fulfil its duties;
- protect security and public order or to prevent crime; or
- protect the rights and freedoms of third parties.
If you are not satisfied with Europol's decision you may appeal to the JSB. You may also refer the matter to the JSB if you do not receive a response to your request within three months.
Right of correction or deletion
You have the right to ask Europol to correct or delete incorrect data relating to you. If you are not satisfied with Europol's reply, or if you do not receive a reply within three months, you may refer the matter to the JSB.
You have the right to ask your national data protection authority (DPA) to check whether the competent authority in your member state has lawfully communicated personal information about you to Europol. You can also ask the DPA to check that the competent authority has lawfully consulted Europol about your personal information. You have the right to ask the JSB to make sure that Europol has lawfully and accurately collected, stored, processed and used your personal information.
How do I make a request for access?
You need to write to a competent authority in any of the member states. In Slovenia the national competent authority is:
Police, Ministry of the Interior
Telephone: 01 428 40 00
Fax: 01 428 47 33
You can write your request in any EU official language. The national authority will then send your request to Europol.
Can I appeal Europol's decision?
Yes. The Appeals Committee of the JSB is responsible for hearing appeals. You need to write to the JSB within three months of receiving a reply from Europol. If you made a request for access, or for information to be checked, corrected or deleted, more than three months ago but have not yet received a reply from Europol, you may also refer the matter to the JSB.
In your letter to the JSB you should:
- describe your complaint, making it clear who you are, what you are complaining about and on what grounds;
- include any supporting documents, such as a copy of your request for access and any letters you may have received from Europol; and
- provide some proof of identity, such as a photocopy of your passport.
Once the JSB has received your complaint, it will write to you within four weeks to acknowledge it and to provide you with some general information on the appeals procedure. You may withdraw your appeal at any time.
Decisions taken by the Appeals Committee are final.
PO Box 908 50
2509 LW The Hague
Secretariat of the Europol Joint Supervisory Body
Rue de la Loi 175