Sergii Figurnyi - Fotolia

EU agencies boost Europol powers to fight terrorism and cyber crime

The European Parliament and Council have agreed to extend Europol's powers to enable faster responses to terrorism, cyber crime and other organised crime

EU police agency Europol is to get new powers to step up efforts to fight terrorism, cyber crime and other crime.

Europol said the powers will enable a faster response and come with strong data protection safeguards and democratic oversight.

The European Parliament and Council agreed a draft regulation on governance rules for Europol on 26 November 2015. The Civil Liberties Committee of MEPs endorsed the regulation on 30 November.

The EU regulation is aimed at enhancing Europol's mandate, to equip it better to counter the increase in cross-border crimes and terrorist threats.

The regulation will make it easier for Europol to set up specialised units to respond immediately to emerging terrorist threats and other forms of serious and organised crime. It includes clear rules for existing units or centres such as the Internet Referral Unit, which ensures the swift removal of websites praising terrorist acts or encouraging EU citizens to join terrorist organisations; and the European Counter Terrorism Centre, which officially starts work on 1 January 2016.

Europol will in some cases be able to exchange information directly with private entities such as firms or non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which should enable it to work faster.

For example, Europol said it will be able to contact social network service provider Facebook directly to ask it to delete a web page run by Islamic State (IS), or request details of other pages that might be run by the same user to prevent the spread of terrorist propaganda.

The new rules state that member states should provide Europol with the data necessary to fulfil its objectives, to avoid information gaps in the fight against organised crime and terrorism.

Europol is in turn required to submit an annual report to the European Parliament, the Council, the Commission and national parliaments on the information provided by individual member states, to encourage further information sharing.

Data protection safeguards

MEPs have ensured that Europol's new powers will go hand in hand with increased data protection safeguards and parliamentary scrutiny. The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) will be responsible for monitoring Europol’s work, and there will be a clear complaints procedure under EU law for citizens.

To ensure democratic control, Europol’s work will be overseen by a Joint Parliamentary Scrutiny Group, with members from both national parliaments and the European Parliament.

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Parliaments' negotiators also ensured that all information exchange agreements between Europol and third countries will be assessed within five years after the entry into force of the new regulation, to ensure that they comply with data protection rules and EU standards for policing.

The draft regulation still needs to be formally approved by the Council of Ministers and then by the full Parliament, in a vote currently scheduled for the April 2016 plenary session in Strasbourg.

The regulation will enter into force 20 days after its publication in the EU Official Journal of the EU, and take effect in all EU member states on 1 April 2017.

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