“We need transparency on the secret collaboration between German and British police!”

in:

Police forces from a number of EU countries are meeting in secret as part of the covert International Specialist Law Enforcement project (ISLE). The project is designed to help police officers exchange and communicate information on secretly gaining access to rooms, vehicles and electronic devices.

This was the critical response of Andrej Hunko, Member of the Bundestag for left party Die Linke, to a German Federal Government’s statement on this topic:

The Federal Government calls this ‘bypassing security systems’. Police officers can use surveillance technologies like microphones, cameras and Trojans to listen in on private conversations.

At the initiative of the European Commission, Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) has taken on the management of the covert working group. Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office is involved in the joint steering committee. ISLE receives funding from its members, as well as from the EU programme entitled Prevention of and Fight against Crime.

Although the project has officially ended, it is now making its way to the next level. This will involve establishing a permanent working group, which the Federal Government says will continue to exchange ‘technical information’. The Federal Government does not know whether this informal association will be assigned to an EU institution.

The UK and Germany have extensive experience of carrying out covert investigations. For example, their collaboration on exchanging police spies is extremely well developed. Seven German police officers spied on the G8 summit in Gleneagles in 2005, while a substantial number of British police officers and informants – including the officer Mark Kennedy – were deployed to the G8 summit in Heiligendamm in 2007.

Today, Kennedy prides himself on being an ‘expert’ on wearing miniature cameras and microphones – practices that are being discussed within the International Specialist Law Enforcement project. The Federal Government claims that it does not know whether Kennedy was equipped with these kinds of devices while he was in Germany. If he was, he would have been breaking the law: Germany’s highest court has ruled that the core area of a person’s private life is inviolable.

The Federal Government now claims that it has no information as to who financed Kennedy’s stay in the country. I therefore call on the British government to reveal who Kennedy was working for and who was financing him when he visited private flats in Berlin. I also want to know if he was illegally wearing recording devices at the time.

Police networks like the International Specialist Law Enforcement project, the European Cooperation Group on Undercover Activities and the Cross-Border Surveillance Working Group have been set up far beyond the reach of public control. They are not linked to any national or EU institutions and therefore operate in a grey area.

Added to this is the fact that private companies or institutes are also involved in many in cases – such as operations involving spies or Trojans, or the use of cross-border surveillance technologies.

The covert working groups are, apparently, not designed to plan repressive operations. Nevertheless, they do play a fundamental role in such proceedings because their regular meetings pave the way for implementing cross-border coercive measures at a later date.

The Federal Government’s answer also shows that this is the case with Belarus: the Federal Criminal Police Office has demonstrated application tools for automated prosecution to police officers in Minsk. The Office regularly runs these kinds of ‘operational analysis’ workshops with foreign police forces.

In its answer, the Federal Government says that the workshops concern ‘police processing of information: basics and methods’. Such courses have also been organised with Azerbaijan, Georgia, China and Turkey.

To date, however, there has been no public debate in Germany on the extent to which this kind of surveillance tools should be allowed to become part of everyday police work.

This English translation first appeared on the website Saving Iceland.