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December 4, 2016

Europol: A massive data breach revealing the risks

The European Association for the Defence of Human Rights (AEDH) notes with concern the data breach at Europol, the European Police Office.

On Wednesday, Europol, reacting to the story of a Dutch public TV broadcaster, has admitted that some secret files concerning terrorist activities have been posted online as a result of a “human error”.

Journalists have found the information on a hard disk connected to the Internet without any protection. According to the TV broadcast, over 700 pages of data have been published concerning at least 54 investigations in Europe including investigations on the attacks in Madrid in 2004. These files would contain names and telephone numbers of suspects. The cause of this breach would be the copy of the data to a personal hard disk by a police officer.

AEDH has always raised concerns on the creation of new databases with the aim to watch more and more people. A recent example of this tendency is the data base Titres Electroniques Sécurisés (TES) in France, a file with biometric data of over 60 million people. The risks AEDH warned from are today proven on a large scale. This does not mean that cases of a more limited scale that occur on a more frequent basis are less dramatic for the victims of these breaches.

The incident raises the important question of security of data and appropriate technical measures having a considerable impact on the rights of exposed persons.

Even if the breach was not ill-intentioned, it shows that it is impossible to secure data collection. At the same time, data collection is getting more and more important contrary to what the advocates of constantly increasing surveillance would have us believe.

AEDH is surprised that Europol pretends that the breach will have no impact on ongoing investigations, although at this point, no statement in this regard can be made.

By contrast, what is clear is that such a breach constitutes a very strong violation of the right to privacy and of the presumption of innocence of people involved.


Dominique Guibert, President
AEDH, European Association for the Defence of Human Rights
33, rue de la Caserne. B-1000 Bruxelles
Tel: +32(0)25112100 Fax: +32(0)25113200 Email: info@aedh.eu

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