November 3, 2016 -
A senior counter-terrorism officer said that Britain’s access to data in Europe-wide security databases, following the Brexit vote, is “mission critical” in regards to protecting the public, according to a report by Belfast Telegraph.
Helen Ball, Deputy Assistant Commissioner at the Metropolitan Police, brought up the issue of returning Islamic State fighters in her discussion about law enforcement arrangements with the EU post-Brexit.
The future of several tools and arrangements is in jeopardy following the Brexit referendum vote, including the European Arrest Warrant for expediting deportation of individuals between member states; the Second Generation Schengen Information System (SIS II), a database of real time alerts; the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS) designed for the exchange of information on criminal convictions between member states; and Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency.
Speaking to the Home Affairs Sub-Committee, Ball said that usage is “much less in terms of volume” in counter-terrorism policing but it is “very useful to have those structures and mechanisms operating”.
“If we were no longer to have access to them, we would be seeking to have nevertheless the ability to share information and intelligence across Europe,” said Ball. “It is mission critical in protecting both the citizens of the UK and citizens of Europe that the UK policing effort is able to access that information. I’m not going to say it has to be through a particular formal mechanism, that’s for the negotiations to decide.”
Ball emphasized that counter-terrorism units have a particular interest in data stored among passenger name records, financial information, the movement of firearms and biometric information.
Additionally, she said that European countries encounter the “common problem” of the potential that individuals who have visited Syria to join Daesh will return.
“We all have faced the problem of our citizens being manipulated, persuaded to travel or persuaded to carry out attacks in their country by Daesh. We are much stronger if we can share the information about that,” Ball said. “If we know that people are travelling across Europe to reach Syria to join Daesh, being able to both track them and to prevent that travel is extremely important.”
There are currently some 850 people linked to the UK and are considered a security threat who are thought to have participated in the Syrian conflict. Less than half of these people are believed to have returned to the UK.
Ball emphasized that MI5 and police have “very strong” relationships with their European counterparts, but “nevertheless [they] wouldn’t want to lose access to that information.”
Ball added that the use of the European Arrest Warrant in counter-terrorism policing is low.
“As I look into the future I suspect we will have greater reason to use it,” said Ball. “We mustn’t be in a position where a terrorist can think ‘Okay, there’s a safe haven where it’s going to take a very long time for me to be extradited and come to meet justice’. So if it were not to be the European Arrest Warrant, going forward we will want something that means we can bring people to justice very swiftly.”