The spider's web: Europol goes global in the hunt for intelligence and analysis:
Part 2

This is the second article in a three-part series. The first article, covering Brazil and Mexico, was published last week.

In November last year, following a meeting with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, the new Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili said that "the priority for the Georgian government is European integration, and integration into NATO, into Euro-Atlantic area. We will do everything possible to speed up this process." [1]

One step in the direction of European integration will be the conclusion of a cooperation agreement between Europol and Georgia. It is also an unavoidable step: following the establishment of the Eastern Partnership negotiation framework in 2009, signing an agreement with Europol became "one of the preconditions to be met by Georgia before it could start the negotiations on a visa-liberalisation agreement with the EU," says Europol's business case for the country. [2]

This conditionality "has substantially increased the political and strategic significance of a cooperation agreement," according to Europol, and "Georgian authorities have shown considerable interest," making "several contacts… to acquire about legal and practical options", including in the context of numerous visits to Europol.

Georgian organised crime groups are "steadily growing in scale"

The South Caucasus nation, which has a population of around 4,500,000, is of interest to the EU's policing agency because of its associations with a wide number of "threats to EU internal security" - drug trafficking, organised property crime, smuggling, illegal immigration, counterfeiting, money laundering, extortion, and fraud.

Of particular interest to Europol are Georgian organised crime groups (OCGs), which have "been active in the EU for more than a decade, steadily growing in scale over that time."

"Currently, several member states" - including Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany and Spain - "are facing serious issues with criminality caused by Georgian organised crime, which by its nature is very international and has interlinked clusters in many countries," says the business case.

The "ultimate goal": intelligence and analysis

Europol wants to conclude "a strategic cooperation agreement", which would not permit the exchange of personal data, in order "to get a better strategic overview of Georgian organised crime impacting on the EU and its Member States."

If possible, though, the agency wants more: "the ultimate goal would be to conclude an operational cooperation agreement, which would allow for the exchange of intelligence and analysis."

The legal framework governing Europol's relations with third countries requires an assessment of data protection to be carried out before the conclusion of an agreement, in order to ensure that it is "adequate", a conclusion it seems likely to reach in the case of Georgia.

The Georgian Law on Personal Data Protection entered into force on 1 May 2012 "and it is by and large in line with EU Personal Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC)," a representative of the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA) told Statewatch.

As in the EU, Georgia's general data protection legislation "does not apply to the activity of police in Georgia and this issue is regulated by the existing criminal law rules." In the EU, national legal regimes cover data processing by the police and law enforcement bodies, while cross-border exchange is regulated by a separate European law. [3]

Nino Gvedashvili from the Tblisi-based NGO Human Rights House told Statewatch that under the previous government, data protection issues were neglected in practice and "in some cases, even in law as well."

The new government under Prime Minister Ivanishvili came to power in October 2012, nearly six months after the new data protection law was passed, and Gvedashvili says that they have promised to improve upon the previous government's record. Currently, however, it is "hard to evaluate the practice of Georgian police."

The European Commission clearly feels that Georgian law enforcement data protection standards are sufficient - a document from last year on the "Eastern Partnership Roadmap 2012-13: the bilateral dimension" makes no mention of any need to improve the legal or policy framework. [4]

Instead, Georgia should "enhance the efficiency of the fight against crime" by ratifying UN and Council of Europe conventions, adopting and implementing "effective standards of protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights in order to combat counterfeiting."

The Commission also feels that the country should "enhance regional cooperation," as well as "cooperation with CEPOL [the European Police College] and Europol."

Covert operations

The requirement for Europol to ensure "adequate" data protection standards in making cooperation agreements, however, means that other concerns may be left unexamined. The GYLA told Statewatch that the law governing information-gathering by the police "features a number of legislative flaws, which explicitly jeopardises protection of human rights."

The law does not "guarantee protective mechanisms, which on its turn requires specifically and strictly prescribed regulation," the Association said. While courts have a say in the lawfulness of initiating covert surveillance operations, judicial oversight then ceases and is not taken into account for the process of covert surveillance.

Georgian law currently gives the police significant powers to gather information on a variety of people, without clear judicial or democratic oversight, according to the GYLA. They say that "the monitoring terms and appeal mechanisms should also be defined as well as the scope of individuals who might be subject to secret overhearing," and that "interdepartmental normative acts regulating specific rules for conduct of secret overhearing should be publicised."

Problems are not only to be found in the "legislative flaws", they say. In recent years "the police abused their power and eavesdropped illegally on a lot of people."

In 2010 Nino Gvedashvili of Human Rights House warned that new legislative amendments "do not increase protection of civil rights, but the reverse," while the director of the NGO Human Rights Centre warned that "the legal amendments allow the creation of a police state." [5]

It appears that now - for the time being - the situation has improved somewhat. The GYLA said that the change in government has led to "quite a few high rank police officials" facing prosecution for "illegal interception and illegal gathering [of] the private communication information."

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[1] Georgian Prime Minister reiterates country's Euro-Atlantic integration, Trend, 12 November 2012
[2] Europol, Business Case: Cooperation with Georgia, 4 April 2012
[3] 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
[4] European Commission, Eastern Partnership Roadmap 2012-13: the bilateral dimension, 15 May 2012
[5] Shorena Latatia, "Police State" Fears in Georgia, Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 4 March 2011

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