Despite Brexit, the British police will remain a member of the Permanent Group of Heads of Interception Units based at Europol in The Hague, Netherlands. The UK will continue to be represented by the National Crime Agency. This was confirmed by European Union Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson in her answer to a written question from Patrick Breyer, MEP for the Pirate Party in the EU Parliament.
It means following Brexit, the UK is the only “third country” on the group, which otherwise consists exclusively of EU member states and the Schengen states Norway, Switzerland and Iceland.
Ms Johansson said in her answer: “As a result of the informal European Police Chiefs meeting in March 2019, the existing ‘Expert Group 5G’ was transformed in October 2021 into a permanent group of the Heads of Lawful Interception Units.
“The scope of the discussions are limited to operational issues and the primary focus is on mobile communications (eg 5G).
“The United Kingdom, represented by the National Crime Agency, participates as third country in this permanent group.
“The European Police Chiefs Convention (EPCC), supported by the Member States in the Council Working Party on Law Enforcement in December 2020, invited the third partner countries Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and the United Kingdom to participate in the group of the Heads of Lawful Interception Units.
“The Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the United Kingdom (TCA) also covers such cooperation in order to support and strengthen the action by the Member States and the United Kingdom, as well as their mutual co-operation in preventing and combating serious crime, terrorism and other forms of crime for which Europol is competent.”
The continued close police links with the UK has been made possible through the TCA with Brussels, which came into force on January 1, 2021.
This details forms of co-operation to both prevent and fight serious crime, terrorism and other forms of crime for which Europol is responsible.
The Home Office is also still a member of the G6 group, which involves the Home Office ministers of the six most populous EU member states for almost 20 years.
Additionally, the UK takes part in the informal Police Working Group on Terrorism and despite Brexit, MI5 remains a member of the European intelligence circle Berner Club and its Counter Terrorism Group.
The working group of the departments on telecommunication surveillance had once been founded on the initiative of the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) as a strategic expert group 5G.
The aim was to provide authorities with access to the new, more secure 5G telephone standard.
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This was successfully pushed through in the European and international standardisation bodies Etsi and 3GPP, with the group then given a new name and remit in October 2021.
It is now tasked with ensuring the the needs of law enforcement agencies are taken into account when amending surveillance laws in the 27 remaining member states and at EU level.
The proposal to enlarge the mandate of the Interception Working Group originated from the German Federal Ministry of the Interior during its European Council presidency in the second half of 2020 in order to improve “operational capabilities” in member states.
Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg.