Britons to be spied on by foreign police
Britons face being spied on and pursued by foreign police officers even for the most minor offences in an European agreement the Home Office will sign up to tomorrow.
By Tom Whitehead and Andrew Porter of The Daily Telegraph, London.
The powers will allow prosecutors from any EU country to demand details such as DNA or even bank and phone records on anyone they suspect of a crime. Officers in the UK would be almost powerless to refuse the request even if they believed it was disproportionate to the alleged offence being investigated. They could also be told to carry out investigations and live surveillance for their EU counterparts, despite already stretched resources.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, will today announce she plans to sign up to the so-called European Investigation Order (EIO), The Daily Telegraph understands. It comes despite concerns by fair trial campaigners and has angered backbench Tories. It raises the prospect of personal details of individuals being passed on without their knowledge in the most minor of cases, such as leaving a restaurant without paying.
Foreign police officers would also be able to come to the UK and work alongside police here in investigating individuals, although they would not have any powers of arrest. The EIO is designed to help law enforcement agencies in EU states share information and be more effective in combating cross border crime. But Fair Trials International (FTI) said it could result in disproportionate requests, such as demands for the DNA of plane loads of British holidaymakers following a murder in a resort they had visited.
A report by FTI said: “This could include requests to interview suspects or witnesses or obtain information in real time, by intercepting and monitoring telephone or email communications or by monitoring activity in bank accounts. “States could also be required to obtain or analyse DNA samples or fingerprints and send the information to the issuing state within fixed deadlines.”
Police would not be able to argue that the request or alleged offence being investigated is disproportionate. Previous examples of minor criminal offences already pursued around Europe include a carpenter who fitted wardrobe doors and then removed them when the client refused to pay him and the Polish authorities requesting the extradition of a suspect for theft of a dessert. The directive still has to be signed off by the European Parliament but once that happens and the UK opts in, it will apply across the EU. Under the system, a court or prosecutor, at the request of local police, can ask for information on individuals in relation to an alleged crime.
All requests would go through the Home Office but could only be refused if they breach immunity rules, are sensitive to national security, breach human rights laws or affect an ongoing investigation. Police would also have to access the information under the same procedures as they would if they were investigating it as a UK crime. Dominic Raab, Tory MP for Esher and Walton, said: "This sweeping Directive would put serious operational strains on hard-pressed UK police forces. “There are scant safeguards to protect the personal information of law-abiding British citizens. “These serious issues should be properly debated in Parliament, before the UK decides to opt in.”
David Davis, the Tory MP and former shadow home secretary, added: “This is clearly a highly controversial order and of huge importance to everyone – from the police service with its scarce resources to the rights of our citizens. “Clearly, this should go in front of the House of Commons to be debated before Britain sings up to something that will be impossible to reverse out of.” The FTI report said the directive is “far from satisfactory in terms of guaranteeing fundamental rights and ensuring proportionality”.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: "The Government is currently considering whether or not we should opt in to the European Investigation Order. "As we pledged in the coalition document, the Government will approach legislation in the area of criminal justice on a case-by-case basis, with a view to maximising our country's security, protecting Britain's civil liberties and preserving the integrity of our criminal justice system.”