U.K. citizens to be spied on by foreign police

Published 27 July 2010

The U.K. Home Office today signed up to the European Investigation Order (EIO) which, when it is approved by the European Parliament, would allow any police force in Europe to spy on and pursue Britons even for the minor offenses; the power allows prosecutors from any EU country to demand details such as DNA or even bank and phone records on anyone they suspect of a crime as minor as leaving a restaurant without paying the bill

Britons face being spied on and pursued by foreign police officers even for the most minor offenses in an European agreement the Home Office has signed up today. The power allows 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 United Kingdom 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.

The Daily Telegraph’s Tom Whitehead and Andrew Porter write that Theresa May, the Home Secretary, today announced she plans to sign up to the so-called European Investigation Order (EIO). 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 United Kingdom and work alongside police here in investigating individuals, although they would not have any powers of arrest.

Whitehead and Porter write that the EIO is designed to help law enforcement agencies in EU states share information and be more effective in combating cross border crime. Fair Trials International (FTI) said, however, that 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 offense being investigated is disproportionate.

Whitehead and Porter note that previous examples of minor criminal offenses 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 United Kingdom 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 U.K. crime.

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 maximizing our country’s security, protecting Britain’s civil liberties and preserving the integrity of our criminal justice system.”