Digital rights groups call for more EU transparency on law enforcement data discussions

European digital rights organisations have called in an open letter for more transparency in the experts group that will propose new data access policies for law enforcement.


Digital rights groups have published an open letter to the European Commission and the Council of the EU calling for more transparency and civil society participation in an expert group that is discussing proposals on access to private data by law enforcement authorities.

The “High-Level Group (HLG) on access to data for effective law enforcement” was launched by the European Commission in June 2023 and is co-chaired by the Commission and the rotating Presidency of the EU Council.

Its goal is to gather opinions from law enforcement and other experts on how to ensure the “availability of effective law enforcement tools to fight crime and enhance public security in the digital age,” says the Commission’s department for migration and home affairs (DG HOME), which provides secretarial support for the group.

In the open letter, European Digital Rights (EDRi), an association of digital rights organisations, calls on the EU to be more transparent about their deliberations.

They also noted their concerns about some proposals that the organisations say seek “to impose a law enforcement ‘access by design’ obligation”.

‘Legal access protocols’

One of the working group’s latest background documents on access to data on users’ devices concluded that one of the possible avenues to explore is “sustained, long-term engagement with standards bodies to ensure that legal access protocols are incorporated into devices and applications before they enter the market”.

These proposals are of particular concern to organisations such as EDRi.

“The initiative is guided by the dangerously misleading concept of ‘security by design’ introduced in the Council’s original scoping paper,” the digital rights organisations said.

“This notion, although mirroring the key EU data protection obligation of ‘privacy by design and by default’, seems to actually serve diametrically opposed goals.

“It would seek to mainstream law enforcement access to data in the development of all technologies, which would be a grave encroachment in everyone’s privacy and online security,” EDRi claims.

Lack of civil society participation

Some of the organisations represented by EDRi, from different European countries, requested to contribute as civil society experts to to the group’s activities.

However, according to EDRi’s open letter, their requests were rejected and they were asked to send written comments “which, if deemed relevant, could lead to a proper invitation at a later date”.

HLG meetings are held behind closed doors, which is of concern to the digital rights groups.

They asked for the minutes to be published promptly and proactively, to avoid having to make individual requests for information.

EDRi also pointed out that the HLG and its working groups do not appear on the Register of Commission’s expert groups and other similar entities, despite that being part of the rules of procedure.

Euronews Next has reached out to the European Commission for comment.

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2024-01-12 16:51:46

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