Stockpiling, layering and carrying out profile-based searches: implementation of the EU Directive on the use of passenger name record data

By Matthias Monroy

The PNR directive obliges air carriers to collect a whole host of data and pass it on to the border authorities in advance of all flights. This information includes registration data, seat and flight numbers, along with food preferences, credit card details or IP addresses. PNR passenger information units (PIUs) in the Member States then analyse the information to identify “suspects and anomalous travel patterns”.

On 27 April, the European Parliament and the Council adopted the Directive on the use of passenger name record (PNR) data. Information collected at the booking stage can now be used by police forces and intelligence services to “prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute” terrorist offences or serious crime. For flights from and to the EU, up to 60 individual pieces of data on passengers are collected and stored for five years. These include registration data, seat and flight numbers, along with food preferences, credit card details or IP addresses. 

The collection of PNR data not only applies to airlines, but also to travel agencies, tour operators or other service providers who book flights. In the future, the plan is for European PNR data to also be exchanged with third countries or international organisations.  


Europol loses 700 pages of confidential information on terrorism investigations

A long-standing Europol employee posted by the Dutch police took dossiers containing sensitive personal information home and copied them onto a hard drive. The information ended up in the hands of a TV station.

By Matthias Monroy

Dutch media have reported a huge data leak at Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency based in The Hague. A staff member allegedly took classified information home and made digital copies of the data on a hard drive. This Lenovo storage device was connected to the Internet. More than 700 pages of confidential information ultimately landed in the hands of TV magazine Zembla who exposed the leak.


Evidence: Internet companies in the USA to facilitate direct enquiries by European authorities

By Matthias Monroy

When conducting digital investigations, authorities often run up against the problem that the data they are looking for is stored on servers abroad or that service providers do not respond to requests. The European Commission is therefore working to develop uniform standards. A number of companies are already cooperating in these efforts.

The European Union intends to make it easier for the police and secret services to access servers belonging to Internet providers. This is set out by a position paper by the European Commission on gaining access to e-evidence, which was discussed at the Justice and Home Affairs Council. The paper contains proposals for implementing the Council conclusions on “Improving criminal justice in cyberspace” of June of this year. Allowing authorities to submit direct enquiries to companies is on the table.


Interpol launches new facial recognition database

By Matthias Monroy

Law enforcement agencies increasingly rely on facial recognition systems. In addition to their use in identifying criminals, these might also be used in future to perform automatic matching against appropriate databases of everyone crossing an external border of the EU. Interpol is also considering searching through images on social networks.

Following a two-year trial period the international police organisation Interpol has launched a new facial recognition system. This system, called MorphoFace Investigate, complements a database currently used by law enforcement agencies for fingerprint storage and crime-solving.

Developed by the French company Safran Identity & Security, it allows a range of image and video formats to be processed. In the first instance, data on persons wanted by Interpol or reported as missing are being used. Photos held in two relevant databases are presently being checked for their quality and, if suitable for facial recognition, will then be entered into the new database.

Need for surveillance of public events

In reply to a minor interpellation the Federal Ministry of the Interior confirms that the Bundeskriminalamt (BKA, Federal Criminal Police Office) plans to use Interpol’s MorphoFace Investigate. “The technical and data protection aspects of German participation are currently under examination”, says the Ministry.

Searches might be possible as part of police checks, with biometric data in identity documents being read and forwarded to Interpol. The developer of MorphoFace Investigate names other applications, including facial identification or linking a crime to a suspect by matching facial images. Photos might also be compared against public media images as a way of tracing wanted or missing persons.

The images targeted are photos and videos on the Internet and in social networks. This was confirmed by a technical expert from Interpol in a presentation describing further areas of crime in which the system might be used. They include trafficking in human beings, maritime piracy, drugs, financial crime or counterfeiting. Interpol also needs, says the expert, to use the system’s automatic process to take stills from video surveillance footage or trace persons present at “critical public events”.

FBI training

A further possibility is that the system could be integrated into border control systems. Crossing a border would automatically trigger a query to Interpol. This could also be done “in real time” using police officers’ mobile devices. The European Union is currently planning a new “entry and exit register” which will also process facial images. At the moment checks at the EU’s external borders only consult the Interpol database for identity documents that have been reported as stolen or lost.

Photo queries to the Interpol database can currently be performed only by a regional office designated by each member country. Access is by the hit/no hit method: if a person is identified by facial recognition, queries for further information can then be submitted.

Interpol has set up a Facial Expert Working Group to implement the new procedure and link in the Organisation’s 190 member countries. Following a number of conferences and work sessions the Group has finalised a Best Practice Guide for the format and quality of facial images transmitted to Interpol. Expertise on this was provided by the USA’s Federal Bureau of Investigation.

INTERPOL 2020 initiative

The new facial recognition capability is part of the INTERPOL 2020 initiative, through which the General Secretariat in Lyon, France, seeks to reform the Organisation’s tasks, priorities and structures. Under the watchword of “interoperability”, existing Interpol databases are to be expanded and more member countries linked up to them.

Interpol will, for example, be seeking new sources of funding to ease the burden on the taxpayer and expand the Organisation. The benefits of existing partnerships will be reviewed and new partnerships will replace old ones as appropriate. This applies to private firms too. Interpol also intends to set up more regional bureaus and improve the links between them.

Two years ago, Interpol added to its General Secretariat in Lyon and its Command and Coordination Centre in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a new Global Complex for Innovation in Singapore, which is developing new strategies for combating digital crime and deploys incident response teams (IRTs) to provide special investigative support to member countries.

Knowledge transfer from the BKA

The INTERPOL 2020 initiative was launched in January 2015 by the new Secretary General and former Vice-President of the BKA, Jürgen Stock. Prior to his move to Interpol Stock was responsible for technical development and liaison with industry. One of his tasks was to oversee the facial recognition project trialled in Mainz railway station in 2006. Matching by means of the now outdated 2-D technology was ultimately deemed too prone to error.

A year later the BKA introduced a facial recognition system for the INPOL database, managed centrally in Wiesbaden. Criminal police offices in the Länder are linked to the database, accessing it via a network interface, and the Federal Police also uses the system. The last few years have seen a marked increase in the number of photo queries run against the database. BKA and Federal Police are working through research projects to improve the technology. It is expected that forensic image enhancing software supplied by the firm Advanced German Technology will be used to generate high-resolution stills from video footage. The new 3-D method will trialled at a German railway station soon.

Prüm, Europol and EURODAC

At the same time the European Union too is expanding its biometric capabilities. It has been suggested that the “Prüm Process”, whereby the EU Member States allow each other a modicum of access to their DNA and fingerprint databases, should be extended to facial images. Europol, the EU law enforcement agency, is working on an “image comparison and identification tool” and has sought information from the BKA on the Cognitec system it uses.

Lastly, the EURODAC database, which stores the fingerprints of asylum seekers, is also being upgraded. The new EURODAC Regulation is currently under preparation, and both the Commission and the Council want facial image processing to be included.

Translation: German Bundestag

Yet another new European intelligence forum: the Paris Group

By Matthias Monroy

Intelligence service coordinators from 15 European countries are organising themselves in a new group, known as “G15”. Initial meetings have been held in Berlin and Rome. The attendees were meant to remain anonymous – but one of them has broken cover.

Rather unexpectedly, a number of European governments have initiated moves to set up yet another intelligence network, whose remit will go beyond cooperation among national agencies and is likely to involve foreign intelligence services as well. Early this year, the intelligence service coordinators from 15 countries formed the Paris Group, known in some publications as “G15”. 


The road to a population register: EU Commission outlines roadmap for a “common repository of data”

By Matthias Monroy

With the statement “Data protection is all well and good, but in times of crisis like these, security takes precedence” the German Minister of the Interior called in March 2016 for a restructuring of EU databases. Major information systems, including biometric data, will be centralised on a step-by-step basis. The planned population register also affects EU citizens.

In April last year, the European Commission established a “high-level group of experts” (HLEG) to investigate "current shortcomings and knowledge gaps of information systems at Union level". The group aims to find possible ways of improving IT systems and their interoperability. Previously, Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU) called for the European Union to improve links between its data repositories. The Commission has now presented the interim report of the HLEG.


Berlin police introduces electroshock weapons for patrolling officers

By Matthias Monroy

In the future, Berlin police officers will carry taser guns when patrolling the districts of Mitte and Kreuzberg. After a test phase of three years, these weapons could be introduced across the board.

The Berlin police departments of police stations 32 (Mitte) and 53 (Kreuzberg) are being armed with electroshock weapons. This is part of a test phase that is scheduled to last for three years. Ten police officers at each of the departments received training on the use of taser guns. Costs are said to be in the region of 55,000 euros.


Europäische Migrationskontrolle in Libyen

Die libysche Marine und die ihr unterstehende Küstenwache werden zum Türsteher der Festung Europa aufgebaut. Sogar eine Migrationspartnerschaft ist im Gespräch.

Von Andrej Hunko

Seit dem gewaltsamen Machtwechsel in 2011 unterstützt die Europäische Union eine sogenannte Sicherheitssekttorreform in Libyen. Ihre Politik folgt dabei dem Berlusconi-Motto „mehr Öl, weniger Migranten“. Die neue libysche Einheitsregierung übt außerhalb von Tripolis kaum Kontrolle aus. Die Polizei und das Militär werden deshalb mit westlicher Unterstützung ertüchtigt, Grenzen und Ölanlagen zu sichern. Ein ungelöstes Problem sind die mehr als 1.000 Milizen, aus denen sich die Angehörigen des Sicherheitsapparates rekrutieren. Auch die Küstenwache besteht aus solchen Verbänden, die ihre Loyalität zu den Autoritäten mitunter wechseln.


Pretty complicated: the European data landscape

The Council of the European Union has published a diagram of all of information systems in the realm of justice and home affairs. This overview includes databases operated by the police, customs and agencies, as well as by Interpol. It also features the agreement between the EU and the USA on exchanging data regarding financial transactions.

By Matthias Monroy

A new diagram is intended to make it easier for delegations from European Union member states to get to grips with the data landscape in the area of justice and home affairs. This was against the backdrop of the High Level Expert Group on Information Systems and Interoperability launched in the summer of last year, which is tasked with the development of proposals to improve file-sharing. The group is made up of members of the Commission and the member states, as well as external “experts”.


Social media companies launch upload filter to combat “terrorism and extremism”

By Matthias Monroy

A database set up jointly by Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube has become operational. The prototype aims to identify “terrorist and radicalising” content automatically and to remove it from these platforms.

The prototype of a mechanism to prevent the publication of violent terrorist content on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter commenced operations last week. This was announced by European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, who met representatives from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube on Friday last week in order to discuss the progress made so far with regard to the “removal of terrorist content online”.


Andrej Hunko, MdB 2017