Total information awareness for law enforcement, no data protection

By EDRi · July 12, 2017

The European Network of Law Enforcement Technology Services (ENLETS), an informal group funded by the European Commission, has produced a report on best practices in mobile solutions for law enforcement practitioners.

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The report sees developments in mobile technologies, telecoms networks and cloud computing as a “game-changer” for total information awareness for law enforcement authorities. It foresees police smartphones, smartwatches or other devices having instant, 24/7 access to a complete profile on individuals from data gathered and stored locally, nationally or internationally.

This turning point is based, firstly, on the rapidly increasing number of information sources – listing for example social media, multimedia, Internet of Things, trackers and tracers, inter-officer chat, all of which are becoming instantly available to law enforcement officers.

Secondly, the report argues, there is the issue of increasing numbers of sensors and automation. It points out that smartphones have sensors and collect information on individuals – they know who you are, your skills, preferences, tasks, whether you are walking, running or driving, they know where you are; they can recognise faces, voices and fingerprints. They are able to combine all that data into context relevant information and provide you with it at the right time, or the right location. And all of this without being asked for, the report adds.

According to the group, we will soon be at a point where “there will be a symbiotic relationship between a user (policeman) and his wearable devices,” with automatic sensors and systems constantly providing information from a whole host of sources without even being prompted.

We have not yet, however, arrived in the age of total information awareness. A cross-border policing exercise recently conducted by ENLETS showed the limits of current systems, according to the report. These limits are due to the lack of technical tools that enable efficient group messaging, exchange of photos, videos and/or documents or tracking of the important movements of people, goods or vehicles.

Currently, there are numerous centralised EU databases for law enforcement and border control, and various networks of national systems. The ENLETS report notes that in the future, access to security and border related data held in such systems will be through mobile devices, permitting direct, operational use.

A key role in developing systems that allow for simultaneous searches across all EU law enforcement and border control information systems is foreseen for the EU Agency for Large-Scale IT Systems (eu-LISA). The agency could implement and operate a centralised EU system for cross-border and covert operations, but the report acknowledges the mandate limitations of the agency’s possibility to develop any such system. An attempt to remedy this is being made with a proposal for a new legal basis for the agency, published by the European Commission. It is designed to help Member States better align national infrastructures to EU systems, including through the setting up of mobile solutions. The Commission is due to publish a further legal proposal on interoperability later in 2017.

The report’s final recommendation to the Law Enforcement Working Party (LEWP), the Council group to which it reports, calls for exploring with eu-LISA the possibility of establishing a European 24/7 centralised infrastructure for bilateral exchange in operations. This would be used for secure mobile communication between Member States to support better cross-border operations, including covert work.

The report notes that the real benefit of mobile policing is standardisation and optimisation of best practices and procedures at the operational level and combating data quality problems. Some countries are now focusing on thorough mobile ID checks, by using smartphones, as a mandatory first step in any process.

Technology is not the only stumbling block to realising this vision of total information awareness. The report does not mention data protection by name once, although it notes legality of data processing as one of the key points to address.

Neither is ENLETS’ vision likely to be easy to achieve on an organisational level. The report itself states that implementing mobile solutions in policing on a large scale is a major undertaking.

This article was originally published at

EU wastes no time welcoming prospect of Big Brother databases (15.05.2017)

EU funding for network developing surveillance, intelligence-gathering and remote vehicle stopping tools (January 2015)

EU: Police forces get ready for multi-billion euro policing and security funds (June 2014)

EU: New police cooperation plan includes surveillance, intelligence-gathering and remote vehicle stopping technology (January 2014)

(Contribution by EDRi member Statewatch)