Interpol takes small steps towards transparency – POLITICO
Edward Grange is a partner at the law firm Corker Binning.
In order to honor its commitment to increase transparency, last November Interpol released a significant slice of new data.
In it, the organization disclosed the number of “red notices” and “wanted person broadcasts” it had dismissed or deleted in 2021 – that is, both its requests to the forces of the global orders “to locate and provisionally arrest a person awaiting extradition, surrender or similar legal action”, as well as its more informal alerts to inform law enforcement, which are broadcast directly by the member countries.
It was a first in the organization’s 99-year history. And yet, in the struggle for transparency, it still falls well short of what is necessary.
If this data had not been published, the casual observer would not be more aware of the extent of the problem Interpol has in dealing with opinions that are abusive or otherwise do not comply with its own legal requirements, because its 2021 annual report was completely silent on these matters.
So what exactly can we learn from this sudden and startling revelation?
The data reveals that Interpol issued 23,716 notices – including 10,776 red notices and 12,940 dissemination notices – in 2021, down 4% from the equivalent number issued the previous year.
But it’s not the revelation that should pique the interest of Interpol observers.
The most telling revelation is that in 2021, 1,270 reviews were either rejected before being published or canceled after they were published the previous year. Of these, 150 were not in accordance with the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is contrary to Article 2 of the organization’s own constitution, and 353 were of a political nature. , military, religious or racial, which is contrary to article 3 of its constitution.
This begs the question: what about the remaining 767 reviews?
On this subject, no further details are provided. All that is said is that they were denied publication or canceled for cryptically labeled “other” reasons.
However, the meaning of this term is unclear and leaves the reader wondering if it could be a violation of Interpol’s data processing rules – the basic legal requirements that allow the Interpol’s Records Control Commission (CCF) to recommend that further processing would be improper and should be terminated. Examples include failure to meet minimum sentence requirements and where the offense falls within one of the excluded offense categories – such as adultery, dowry crimes, non-payment of child support, possession of drugs for personal purposes, etc.
The next challenge in interpreting published data is that no distinction is made between reviews that were refused publication in 2021 and those published in 2020 but later canceled due to review. Combining these two categories will likely not be enough to quench the thirst of critics, who will be more interested in what was not included or explained than what the organization chose to reveal.
Of course, Interpol is to be commended for releasing this data, especially as it clearly demonstrates the extent of abuse of its systems by member countries. But the data also reveals a worrying trend: why do so many abusive or illegal reviews continue to be published?
And since Interpol’s own Task Force Notices and Diffusions—a specialist multilingual, multidisciplinary group of lawyers, police, and operational specialists who review requests for formal notices—has apparently passed up these notices, to what extent does adequate protection against abusive reviews?
If all 1,270 reviews were denied publication, that would be irrefutable proof that the system is working. However, if most of them were canceled after publication, it calls into question why the Notices and Circulations Working Group authorized their publication.
This is why statistics raise more questions than they answer.
As it stands, the precise distribution between the opinions refused before publication and those canceled after publication remains unknown.
Of those canceled after publication, the split between red notices and wanted person broadcasts is also unknown. Further, within these two categories, the grounds for cancellation in each case, and whether the target of the notice was detained, arrested, or even subject to extradition proceedings prior to the cancellation of the red notice, does are also not accessible. How long these notices were in circulation before they were canceled is also unanswered.
Of course, requests for advice from member countries may not reveal their abusive nature on their face – for example, if they are politically motivated, in violation of Interpol’s constitution, may not be immediately apparent. There can, however, be no excuse for notices being published for offenses when the minimum publication requirements are not met.
Since the new data doesn’t reveal where the fault lies, to conclude that the Notices and Disseminations Task Force is functioning as it should would be a stab in the dark. One only has to examine the latest annual report of the CCF to discover that too many notices are published which do not comply with the Interpol constitution and the rules on the processing of data.
In 2021, the CCF processed 478 data deletion requests for which the requester was the subject of a notice in the Interpol system. In 62% of these requests, the commission recommended that the disputed data did not meet Interpol’s legal requirements under its constitution and/or rules, and that the data should be deleted. In 28% of cases, the disputed data was found to be compliant. And in the remaining 10%, either the Interpol General Secretariat or the source National Central Bureau deleted the disputed data before the CCF could consider its merits.
Again, these figures suggest that Interpol needs to do a lot more work when it first receives a request for an opinion, to ensure that it is not released without a thorough check to ensure a full compliance.
The move towards greater transparency from an organization that for much of its life has operated in obscurity is a welcome development. But to demonstrate true transparency, Interpol must adopt a sustained openness. And so far, it has only allowed intermittent and woefully incomplete glimpses into its inner workings.
These are just small steps — and we can expect more from an organization that will celebrate its centenary this year.