World Views
10:07 am
Fri August 1, 2014

How Europol Battles Cybercrime And Prepares For The Future

Europol, based in The Hague, Netherlands, is the European Union’s police office. Staffed by high-level police officers from the 28 EU member states, John Occhipinti says it functions as the “hub of a liaison network” that manages a database of criminal intelligence.

The Canisius College political scientist has written extensively on the internal security policy of the EU, including the book, The Politics of EU Police Cooperation: Toward a European FBI? He says by increasing communication between law enforcement in the different EU member states, Europol is helping police “catch up to what the criminals are doing.”

Today, this is especially important because of increasing threats to international cyber security.

“In terms of future cross-border crime” Occhipinti says, cybercrime is definitely “the newest and the biggest priority now.”

To respond to this threat, Europol has expanded to include the new European Cybercrime Center, or EC3.

“It's a newer crime,” Occhipinti says. “Drug trafficking has been around for a long time, so there's actually bureaucratic turf there … it was kind of a change for [member states] to go to Europol for assistance. Cybercrime's not like that. Cybercrime is so new, and some member states really don't have the capability to deal with it on their own, that they actually look to kind of a European response to this problem that affects everybody.”

Since most cybercrime originates in countries outside of the EU, Occhipinti says, the emphasis is on mitigating its effects – not making arrests.

“By sharing information, you can let different companies in the private sector kind of know what the risks are and how they can address them, and what the trends are in terms of cyber-attacks,” Occhipinti says.

A map of the member states of the European Union.
A map of the member states of the European Union.
Credit Keshetsven / Wikimedia Commons

According to Occhipinti, the standardization of European criminal codes in recent years has also helped to make Europol more effective.

“Because the member states that belong to Europol are very similar – they're all democracies, they all have more-or-less common views on various kinds of crimes – the information flows better,” Occhipinti says.

Even though the EU is still a long way from a “federal approach to policing,” Occhipinti says Europol has achieved a lot in a short amount of time and that further integration and expansion is likely.

“The big challenge, I think, that they face in Europe is this balance between providing security and then dealing with things that we value in a democracy,” Occhipinti say. “Whether it’s freedom of movement, whether it’s privacy, whether it’s human rights, this is always the big issue. … It's this tension between liberty and security.”

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On the need for the European Police Office

The police are allowed in hot pursuit across borders, but as soon as they cross a border, they have to get in contact with the authorities there and bring them in in any kind of arrest. What the European Police Office, Europol, does is to try to coordinate investigations of cross-border crimes. … Europol plays a key role in coordinating international investigative teams and, you know, try to bring all of the resources together so that, if say, a trafficking network is stretching across three member states, this may be drugs might be entering through Spain, and then being trafficked to, say, Amsterdam, and then distributed in Germany, that law enforcement from all three of those member states can be involved in this. And it eliminates the ability of criminals to kind of have a safe haven.

On the integration of criminal law in the EU

The other thing the EU is doing, actually, is that they are trying at a certain level to harmonize criminal law. So they are trying to make sure that there are common approaches to cross-border crime, things like human trafficking, drug trafficking, even terrorism. So, they're trying to eliminate these differences among the member states so that everyone kind of approaches these crimes the same way, takes them as seriously, and, you know, are willing to devote resources to them.

On cybercrime

You can think of cybercrime one way in terms of just facilitating crime, similar to money laundering or any other kind of way of facilitating crime. Cybercrime is simply using computers, using the internet, to commit another crime, say the buying and selling of drugs or laundering of money, etc. But cybercrime also entails cyber security, which involves attacks on information systems, attacks on infrastructure, attacks on a power company. So cyber criminals who are out there are either trying to make money, or they're trying to promote a political agenda, or they're just trying to sort of be cyber vandals. And they can be operating outside of the European Union, they could be operating, say, in Russia or China, and so this makes it very difficult to apprehend them because they're never physically present.

On working with the United States

The Europeans and the Americans share the same kinds of vulnerabilities and priorities when it comes to cybercrime. And by working together they can try to set the common global standard for cyber security and sort of alert the public sector and the private sector to the threats of cybercrime by sharing information with each other. So that's also an area of increased transatlantic cooperation.

On trafficking networks

Any trafficking network has, or any criminal network, source countries where drugs may be cultivated or immigrants may originate from, has a transit state where it passes through, and has a destination country. When it comes to sort of crimes in general, you have to pay attention to all three. It's similar to the United States: you have to pay attention to the demand side of the drug problem and not just the source of the drug problem.

On the success of Europol

And cooperation was actually pretty slow in the beginning. There wasn't a sense of urgency about any of this, even with the end of the Cold War and the spread of cross-border crime. It actually, interestingly, really took 9/11 for Europe to realize the threats at hand. And it was after 2001 that there was really expanded progress. So if you think of the fact that the Europeans have not been working on this all that long, it's pretty remarkable what they've achieved. They have this European Police Office I've already talked about. They have an external border management agency called Frontex, which provides assistance to all of the different border patrols of the member states that deal with the problems like refugees and immigration. They have a virtual police training academy to provide training for high-level police officers. There is now what I call a legal and institutional infrastructure of crime-fighting and counterterrorism in Europe that didn't exist twenty years ago. … But it doesn't quite amount to a United States of Europe, or a true federal approach to policing.

-------------------------------------------

KGOU and World Views rely on voluntary contributions from readers and listeners to further its mission of public service with internationally focused reporting for Oklahoma and beyond. To contribute to our efforts, make your donation online, or contact our Membership department.

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

SUZETTE GRILLOT, HOST: John Occhipinti, welcome to World Views.

OCCHIPINTI: Thank you, it's nice to be here.

GRILLOT: You've done some really interesting work on police cooperation in Europe, internal security policy within the European Union, and the way in which these countries come together to police common problems – transnational crime, for example. I mean, I can imagine things like immigration, organized crime, maybe trafficking? I don't know. Tell us what the Europeans are facing largely in terms of policing issues.

OCCHIPINTI: Well, it starts from this idea that in Europe you can move around, and so there is this freedom of movement that people have that law enforcement don't have. And so what the European Union can do as a kind of government agency is to allow police in the different member states to communicate with each other, share information with each other, and coordinate their activities to try to catch up to what the criminals are doing. The criminals have all the advantages and the police are trying to catch up. And so that's where the EU can play this supporting role.

GRILLOT: So, I just want to pick up on that freedom of movement that people have that police don't. I think that's a great way to characterize the European Union with these open borders and the easy flow of goods and money and people, but not necessarily jurisdiction and not necessarily coordination because you still have all of these independent countries. And so just because something, you know, transfers the borders between France and Germany doesn't mean that the French police can go over into Germany and have any jurisdiction.

OCCHIPINTI: That's right. The police are allowed in hot pursuit across borders, but as soon as they cross a border, they have to get in contact with the authorities there and bring them in in any kind of arrest. What the European Police Office, Europol, does is to try to coordinate investigations of cross-border crimes. And these are things that are planned. Europol plays a key role in coordinating international investigative teams and, you know, try to bring all of the resources together so that, if say, a trafficking network is stretching across three member states, this may be drugs might be entering through Spain, and then being trafficked to, say, Amsterdam, and then distributed in Germany, that law enforcement from all three of those member states can be involved in this. And it eliminates the ability of criminals to kind of have a safe haven where they can operate in one member state and be free from being detected by another. The other thing the EU is doing, actually, is that they are trying at a certain level to harmonize criminal law. So they are trying to make sure that there are common approaches to cross-border crime, things like human trafficking, drug trafficking, even terrorism. So, they're trying to eliminate these differences among the member states so that everyone kind of approaches these crimes the same way, takes them as seriously, and, you know, are willing to devote resources to them. And Europol has had some successes, so it seems to be working, seems to be effective. More people, more law enforcement, are using Europol than in the past. There are more requests for assistance than there used to be, and that indicates that they value it.

GRILLOT: Well, so you mentioned Europol. But let's talk about specifically about what that is.

OCCHIPINTI: Sure.

GRILLOT: It's an arm of the European Union? It's affiliated, and its function, obviously, is to enhance police cooperation. But when it comes to law enforcement and prosecution, that sort of thing, that's going to still be up to the member states?

OCCHIPINTI: Right. So the EU is a kind of government for the twenty eight member states. They make laws that are binding on the member states. The EU also has a number of agencies attached to it. The European Police Office is one of these agencies. It is not really a European FBI. It's not as if Europol has branch offices throughout Europe. It is a police office based in The Hague, Netherlands, and it functions as the hub of a liaison network and as an information manager, so it manages a database of criminal intelligence. So, high-level police officers from the different member states will come to Europol and be based there for a long period of time. They'll work kind of side-by-side with their counterparts from other countries, and together they will manage these databases. Different countries can contribute information to these databases, and then Europol helps to keep it secure. So if the information is not supposed to be shared, Europol manages that, so that makes police more comfortable with sharing information in the first place. And then, as I said earlier, Europol helps to coordinate these joint investigative teams composed of all the different member states. But Europol does not go out and make arrests. So the ability to go out and make arrests is still in the hands of the member states. The criminal courts are still in the hands of the member states. It is not like the EU has a true FBI and a true kind of criminal code of any kind, or the court system for adjudicating that. Some of that could come down the line, but not for quite a while, if it ever comes.

GRILLOT: So Europol is something like a regional equivalent to Interpol, the international police force?

OCCHIPINTI: Yeah, it's similar. It's very similar to Interpol which is in Lyon. It's more... there's more to it, I think, than Interpol, actually. Because the member states that belong to Europol are very similar – they're all democracies, they all have more-or-less common views on various kinds of crimes – the information flows better. Whereas Interpol is such a diverse collection of countries, it plays a more limited role. But the two work together, actually. So Europol has a liaison officer based in Interpol, and vice versa. So, for example, Europol might want to search Interpol's database of lost and stolen passports. So the two are connected, but they're not the same. They share these similarities like you mentioned.

GRILLOT: Well, you've mentioned during this conversations a couple of interesting criminal activities: trafficking, drugs, human trafficking, I'm assuming illegal immigration, these sorts of things.

OCCHIPINTI: Yes, yes.

GRILLOT: But what about cybercrime? How do they work together to deal with cybercrime, because this is a growing criminal issue all around the world.

OCCHIPINTI: Yes, it is. Absolutely. Yeah, it definitely is the newest and the biggest priority now, I would say, in terms of the future of cross-border crime. There's a new entity based at Europol now called the European Cybercrime center. It goes by the acronym EC3, and that's now based at Europol. So there's an interesting decision to kind of pool Europe's resources together to fight cross-border crime in the form of cybercrime and put it at Europol. So, this has actually raised the prominence of Europol. Cybercrime is interesting as well because it's a newer crime. Drug trafficking has been around for a long time, so there's actually bureaucratic turf there. The different member states are kind of accustomed to dealing with drug trafficking on their own, so it was kind of a change for them to go to Europol for assistance. Cybercrime's not like that. Cybercrime is so new, and some member states really don't have the capability to deal with it on their own, that they actually look to kind of a European response to this problem that affects everybody. It's also an area where there's growing cooperation between the United States and Europe. The Europeans and the Americans share the same kinds of vulnerabilities and priorities when it comes to cybercrime. And by working together they can try to set the common global standard for cyber security and sort of alert the public sector and the private sector to the threats of cybercrime by sharing information with each other. So that's also an area of increased transatlantic cooperation.

GRILLOT: So, can you just be a little more specific about what cybercrime is? You know, there are many different ways in which we can understand what cybercrime is. So what, in a European context again, might be the most important part of cybercrime?

OCCHIPINTI: You can think of cybercrime one way in terms of just facilitating crime, similar to money laundering or any other kind of way of facilitating crime. Cybercrime is simply using computers, using the internet, to commit another crime, say the buying and selling of drugs or laundering of money, etc. But cybercrime also entails cyber security, which involves attacks on information systems, attacks on infrastructure, attacks on a power company. So cyber criminals who are out there are either trying to make money, or they're trying to promote a political agenda, or they're just trying to sort of be cyber vandals. And they can be operating outside of the European Union, they could be operating, say, in Russia or China, and so this makes it very difficult to apprehend them because they're never physically present.

GRILLOT: That's what I was going to ask. Much of that crime might be coming from outside of the region. In fact, many of these things, the trafficking of humans, the trafficking of drugs, are actually originating outside of the European context. So having to battle that, and not having any real jurisdiction, and then having to work, as you said, with a very diverse set of governments and institutions to manage that.

OCCHIPINTI: Yeah, any trafficking network has, or any criminal network, source countries where drugs may be cultivated or immigrants may originate from, has a transit state where it passes through, and has a destination country. When it comes to sort of crimes in general, you have to pay attention to all three. It's similar to the United States: you have to pay attention to the demand side of the drug problem and not just the source of the drug problem. And Europe does this as well. And Europe also tries to have a relationship with its neighbors and its near abroad in Eastern Europe and in North Africa to try to deal with the transit states, and then, you know, tries to play a role in dealing with the source of this. In some cases it's harder to do. In some cases it involves developmental assistance, but in the case of cybercrime there's not as much you can do at its source. You have to sort of just mitigate its effects. And by sharing information, you can let different companies in the private sector kind of know what the risks are and how they can address them, and what the trends are in terms of cyber-attacks.

GRILLOT: Well, clearly Europe like many other parts of the world, is dealing with these issues of cross-border crime. I don't think there's anything new about that. But the Europeans seem to have taken significant steps to really work together trans-nationally to deal with it. But, as you said, most of the advantages are on the side of the criminal rather than the police forces or law enforcement. So, tell us how well you think the Europeans have done. I mean, have they really set the standard on these issues? Have they made significant progress? What more can they do to address these kinds of issues?

OCCHIPINTI: Yeah, good points. Well, this has been around for a while. As Europe integrated, there was a lot more traffic. And when there was a lot more traffic, they decided to free up the borders. And that was back in the 1980s. Seeing this coming, the EU said, "well, we're going to have this free movement, but this is also going to be free movement for criminals. So we need to get going now on a way of providing the support." And so it was back at the end of the 1980s, early 1990s, when they first sort of hatched this idea of a European police office and using the EU's legislative apparatus to go into the area of criminal justice. And cooperation was actually pretty slow in the beginning. There wasn't a sense of urgency about any of this, even with the end of the Cold War and the spread of cross-border crime. It actually, interestingly, really took 9/11 for Europe to realize the threats at hand. And it was after 2001 that there was really expanded progress. So if you think of the fact that the Europeans have not been working on this all that long, it's pretty remarkable what they've achieved. They have this European Police Office I've already talked about. They have an external border management agency called Frontex, which provides assistance to all of the different border patrols of the member states that deal with the problems like refugees and immigration. They have a virtual police training academy to provide training for high-level police officers. There is now what I call a legal and institutional infrastructure of crime-fighting and counterterrorism in Europe that didn't exist twenty years ago. And so I think, looking at it that way, it's pretty remarkable what they've achieved in a short period of time. But it doesn't quite amount to a United States of Europe, or a true federal approach to policing. But I think there's more progress that's going to come. Europe also has a liaison office for its national prosecutors, and that is now going to be transformed into a true European public prosecutor. Initially, it will be directed at financial crimes, corruption, but it's very likely it'll be expanded once it kind of shows its value and that. So these things are constantly evolving in Europe, and, looking at it that way, it's impressive. The big challenge, I think, that they face in Europe, and it's similar to what we deal with here, is this balance between providing security and then dealing with things that we value in a democracy. Whether its freedom of movement, whether its privacy, whether its human rights, this is always the big issue. So how do you deal with this immigration issue in Europe? You have to sort of pay attention to the humanitarian issues at stake, so the plight of the people coming from poor countries, countries involved in war, but then you also have to deal with security, the impact on average citizens' lives with waves of refugees coming into their country and a lack of resources. So there's always this kind of tension between the two, and it's very similar to here in the US when we're, say, dealing with any crime or with terrorism. It's this tension between liberty and security.

GRILLOT: Well, very interesting John Occhipinti. Thank you so much for being with us today to talk about a very important issue, clearly one that not any one actor or any one government around the world can address. But it does require this cooperation, and I appreciate you talking about that with us today.

OCCHIPINTI: My pleasure, thank you very much.

Copyright © 2014 KGOU Radio. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to KGOU Radio. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only. Any other use requires KGOU's prior permission.

KGOU transcripts are created on a rush deadline by our staff, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of KGOU's programming is the audio.

Related Program