Europol ordered to delete billions of illegally collected data
EU police agency Europol will be forced to delete the majority of a huge store of personal information that has been discovered to have been unlawfully collected by the EU’s data protection watchdog. block. Illegally collected data includes information from crime reports, hacked from encrypted phone services and taken from asylum seekers who have never been involved in a crime.
According to internal documents consulted by the Guardian, Europol’s cache memory contains at least 4 petabytes, the equivalent of 3 million CD-Roms and billions of data points. Data protection advocates say the volume of information held on Europol’s systems amounts to mass surveillance and is a step on its way to becoming the European counterpart to the states’ National Security Agency (NSA). United, the organization whose clandestine online spying was exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Among the piles of illegally collected data are the sensitive personal data of at least a quarter of a million current or former suspects of terrorism and serious crimes, as well as the people with whom they have come into contact. Items have been placed in Europol’s ‘data ark’ by law enforcement authorities over the past six years, in large ‘data dumps’, with little regard for what was placed in the system.
Now the data watchdog has ordered Europol to delete data collected illegally, as well as data held for more than six months and given it a year to sift through the rest to see what can legally be kept. The showdown pits the EU’s data protection watchdog against a powerful security agency set to become the center of machine learning and AI in policing. The ramifications of the impasse between the police organization and the watchdog are far-reaching and have implications for the future of privacy in Europe.
EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson has appeared to defend Europol. “Law enforcement authorities need the tools, the resources and the time to analyze the data that is lawfully passed to them,” she said. “In Europe, Europol is the platform that supports national law enforcement authorities in this herculean task.”
Europol denies any wrongdoing over illegally collected data and said the watchdog may be interpreting the current rules in an impractical way: “[The] The Europol Regulation was not designed by the legislator as a requirement that could not be met by the controller [ie Europol] in practice.”
Europol has worked with the EDPS “to strike a balance between the security of the EU and that of its citizens while respecting the highest standards of data protection”, the agency said.
In theory, Europol is subject to strict regulations on the types of personal data it can store and for how long. Incoming records are supposed to be strictly categorized and processed or retained only when they are of potential interest for high-value work such as counter-terrorism. But the full content of what he holds is unknown, in part because of the haphazard way the EDPS discovered Europol was handling the data.
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