Europol compelled to erase a large amount of personal data

CIO Review Europe | Thursday, January 20, 2022

EU police body accused of unlawfully holding information and aspiring to become an NSA-style mass surveillance agency.

FREMONT, CA:Europol, the EU's police agency, is compelled to destroy much of a massive bank of personal data that is gathered illegally, by the bloc's data protection supervisor. According to privacy experts, The European Data Protection Supervisor's (EDPS) groundbreaking decision targets a "big data ark" storing billions of data points. In the ark, sensitive information was gathered through police reports, hacked from encrypted phone services, and sampled from asylum seekers who had never been a part of any crime.

As per the internal document seen by the Guardian, Europol's cache comprises at least 4 petabytes which are comparable to 3 million CD-Roms or a sixth of the entire contents of the US Library of Congress. Data protection advocates claim that the volume of information held on Europol’s systems amounts to mass surveillance and is a step on its road to becoming a European counterpart to the US National Security Agency (NSA), the organization whose secretive online spying was exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Among the quadrillions bytes of data include sensitive data on at least a quarter of a million current or past terror and severe criminal suspects, as well as a slew of other persons with whom they came into touch. It was gathered over the last six years from national police authorities in a series of data dumps from an unknown number of criminal investigations.

Europol was given a year to figure out what data could be legally preserved after the custodian ordered it to delete material that had been held for more than six months. The confrontation sets the EU's data protection custodian against a strong security agency poised to become the epicentre of machine learning and artificial intelligence in law enforcement.

The decision also reveals serious political differences among European decision-makers about the security-privacy trade-offs. The outcome of their confrontation has implications for Europe's and the world's future privacy.

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