The European Secret Service Union

29.11.1998

A summary of the reports on the ENFOPOL papers

After reporting exclusively in a series of stories by our correspondents Erich Moechel and Christiane Schulzki-Haddouti about the far-reaching eavesdropping plans by the European Union, Telepolis has now made the first ENFOPOL paper public on its website. The following article is a summary of the reports and analysis written by Moechel/Schulzki-Haddouti.

ENFOPOL surveillance plans target any form of telecommunications - be it data, encrypted or in clear form, mobile telephony, the new Iridium system and other satelite mobile phone services that may follow. If these plans can be implemented, ENFOPOL will be able to monitor almost every communications mode, leaving no gaps. In order to avoid legal problems if target subjects are moving quickly from one country to the other and also for the sake of security of the wiretapped data ENFOPOL is aiming at the central terrestrial masterstation of Iridium in Italy as an ideal spot to monitor telecommunications traffic. But also large clearing houses which handle international phone call billing for the big national operators are mentioned as potential sources for the kind of information European police forces are interested in.

Iridium has thus far not given any significant statement, apart from saying that they would abide to any law in the countries in which they operate. A spokesperson of a large international clearing house, however, strictly ruled out that his company would pass on any such data. Telepolis was also told that they had not been approached yet with any request of that kind.

It is important to note that, at the moment, ENFOPOL is not a reality (unlike ECHELON), but merely a proposal drawn up by a working group for police collaboration. But at the same time, ENFOPOL is not an isolated concept completely detached from reality. Many of the statements, the listed requirements and even the language used resemble legal draft papers and bills recently made public or already put to work in countries like Germany and Austria. In both countries, the original bills which had asked for Internet service providers (ISPs) to give security forces back door access to customer information had to be watered down after an outcry in public, mainly organized by lobby groups of ISPs and telco operators. The similarity of the ENFOPOL proposals and these surveillance bills in Austria and Germany tell us that key employees within European police forces are trying to pull the net more closely together to create a harmonization of European surveillance laws.

Supporting these observations, a recent story in the London-based newspaper Sunday Times claimed that the formation of a joint European intelligence agency is being considered by several European politicians. A German politician was quoted, saying that the German government favoured a closer political union and that a new secret services agency was naturally an achievement. At the same time, German Minister of Foreign Affairs Joschka Fischer said that, in his opinion, Europe was heading towards political union with a joint foreign policy.

But the EU is not alone in its efforts. A debate in the European Parliament in September revealed plans between the EU and the FBI to co-operate on building a global surveillance system for telecommunications. The ENFOPOL proposal clearly has to be seen in this context. If it became legal reality, it would not only give police forces any surveillance power they wish, it would also legitimize existing systems like ECHELON.

Police statements often refer to the danger of lagging behind while organized crime and terrorism is exploiting high-technology and when national borders are opening up. But their own declared goals are not served better when at the same time all privacy rights are taken away from individuals. Furthermore, the way in which all this is done suggests a mental regress into "big brother" thinking. Politicians and civil servants are making top-down decisions, far away from the public. A democratic debate has barely taken place so far. And for someone not directly involved with such subject matters it might seem as if all this has nothing to do with their life anyway. Governments have done their best so far to keep ENFOPOL out of the spotlight. And the technical matters involved are equally abstract to most people in the world. This is the world of big telco operators, backbone providers, satellite providers and clearinghouses - companies which mostly work for other firms and therefore rarely are household names for the average internet user.

The requirements of ENFOPOL for wiretapping telecommunications can surely not be fulfilled without heavy technical changes in the systems currently in operation commercially. We would not imply that any of these commercial operators would willingly or illegally trespass on their customer's privacy rights. But once such trespassing is part of the Transeuropean legal system, we can also not be too certain that these companies would step forward as advocates of citizen's rights. They don't seem to have a record for such a campaign spirit unless it is linked with business interest. (German ISPs, for example, mainly protested against the TKÜV because costs should be imposed on them.)

It seems that the best opportunity for lifting the veil of secrecy is to finally launch the public debate that has been missing so far. This is why we have chosen to make the original ENFOPOL paper from 3rd of September 1988 accessible on this website. The site will also be updated in the future with other more recent ENFOPOL papers.

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