Select Committee on European Union Twelfth Report



Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Select Committee on the European Union, to Kate Hoey MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Home Office

I mentioned in my letter of 23 September that I had passed your letter of 21 September and the accompanying Austrian Presidency paper (JUSTPEN 87) dealing with the interception of satellite telecommunications to Sub-Committee E (Law and Institutions). The Committee considered both documents at its meeting on 14 October.

  The "service provider solution" outlined in the Presidency paper is a significant development which has only emerged since the completion of our report, Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters (14th Report 1997-98). The Committee would be grateful for clarification of a number of points. These concern, first, the adequacy of the legal safeguards in cases where interception is effected by "remote access" (without the involvement of the satellite ground station) and, second, the budgetary implications of establishing the necessary technical infrastructure.


  (i)  Can you confirm that the present text on interception of telecommunications is based on the draft Articles proposed by the United Kingdom in January 1998? If not, can you please supply a copy of the latest version.

  (ii)  On the assumption that the interception concerns a satellite telecommunication provided by an Iridium ground station in Italy and that the target is in another Member State, can you please illustrate how the "service provider solution" will operate in each of the situations set out in draft Article 6(2) (or any amended version)? In particular, will the requesting State be required to seek assistance from the State in which the target is present if this is not technically necessary in order to effect an interception? Or would it be possible to approach a service provider directly either in that State or in the requesting State?

  (iii)  If interception is effected by "remote access", what safeguards will apply? In particular, will the cumulative protection of the "double barrier" be operative if it is possible to effect an interception via a local service supplier rather than seek the assistance of the Member State in which the target is present?

  (iv)  The Presidency paper recommends including in the Convention "appropriate rules on continued interception for cases where a target moves from one Member State to another and on interception for cases where the target is in another Member State before the interception starts". Please explain what provisions are envisaged. In cases where the target moves from one Member State to another, will it be necessary to seek assistance from each State concerned, or would it be possible to approach local service providers directly? Could a request simply be made to a service provider in the Member State in which the interception first commenced? What safeguards will apply?

  (v)  If, as seems possible, a satellite ground station were to be located in the United Kingdom, do you accept that the competent United Kingdom authorities should have no involvement in or control over intercepts originating in other Member States or (conceivably) non-EU states?


  The Presidency paper states that "appropriate measures should be taken to ensure that all the operators of satellite telecommunications systems are ready to provide the technical assistance necessary for the purpose of interception". We understand that establishing the technical infrastructure for remote interception is a costly exercise and would, therefore, be grateful for an explanation as to how this is to be achieved. In particular, will the technical capacity to intercept remotely be a pre-condition for establishing a satellite ground station within the EU? What financial implications will there be for the EU and/or Member States?

  Thank you for keeping the Select Committee informed of developments with regard to the draft Convention. I look forward to receiving your response to the issues raised above.

  I am copying this letter to Jimmy Hood as Chairman of the Commons European Legislation Committee and to Chris Mullin as Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

29 October 1998

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