Lobbying by the European Union rule-of-law mission, EULEX, to retain a US border control system, which keeps a history of all travellers passing through Kosovo, has forced the European Commission to abandon plans to ditch the software, although it does not comply with Brussels’ rules on privacy.
The European Commission Liaison Office, ECLO, in Kosovo has confirmed to Prishtina Insight that the US donated system, known as PISCES, will not be removed as originally intended and will run in parallel to the EU-compliant system. The EU software would have replaced PISCES, which collects and stores all traveller information in a downloadable format, which breaches EU data protection requirements. Other countries that have introduced PISCES, such as Tanzania, have gone as far as providing US counterterrorism teams with copies of all the collected information. This is not believed to be the case in Kosovo.
ECLO awarded a tender for 3 million euro in 2008 to improve Kosovo’s border security in line with EU standards. This included installation of a new computer system to check travellers’ data against a watch-list of criminals. But following lobbying by the US embassy, the Kosovo government and EULEX -according to two leaked diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks last week – ECLO backed down on plans to ditch PISCES. It is now attempting to keep both systems working in tandem, despite legal concerns.
A February 2010 memo from the US embassy in Kosovo reveals that the former head of EULEX,Yves de Kermabon, appealed to Brussels to keep the US border management system, which was scheduled to be replaced by the EU system.“The inability to archive this data denies both the Kosovo Police and EULEX a powerful investigatory tool, the ability to track travel patterns of criminal and terrorist targets,” the diplomatic message reads.
US Ambassador Christopher Dell wrote that EULEX and Kosovo’s Interior Ministry did not want to admit that they had not paid attention to the fact that the European Commission planned to remove PISCES as part of its border management scheme.
“Access to PISCES data is clearly important to both the KP and EULEX, but it seems that neither side wants to admit that they were not paying attention when the decision was taken to remove it,” Dell wrote. “We also believe – with EULEX and the KP – that the continued operation of the PISCES system in Kosovo is critical for successful prosecution of serious crimes like terrorism, trafficking in persons and organised crime,” Dell added.
At the time of negotiations, in early 2010, head of operations at ECLO, Kjartan Bjornsson, had warned of political and technical concerns. “ECLO could not support anything that would be contrary to EU law, and collecting traveler data, even if it was sent to another system, might constitute such a violation,” the cable reads. A European Commission official speaking to the International Crisis Group for a report in 2010 said that PISCES did not “adequately protect the privacy of individuals’ data”.Yvonne Gogoll, team leader for rule of law issues at ECLO, told Prishtina Insight that a deal had been struck between the different sides to retain PISCES.
She said that PISCES was still operational at one border crossing, while all others had been switched to the European model, but that programmers were now working to make the two systems run in parallel.
“The design of the interface is not yet determined,” she said. “In the development phase the European Commission will make sure that data protection will be observed,” she added, explaining that the border police would enter data in PISCES and they would later delete it. The comment contradicts claims in the WikiLeaks cables that EULEX and Kosovo Police wanted to retain PISCES to collect data.
Kosovo’s Interior Minister,Bajram Rexhepi, said that the US system would be part of the interface as agreed with all relevant parties. “PISCES will be used,” he said. “It’s part of the memorandum of understanding between ECLO and US,” Rexhepi told Prishtina Insight, refusing to comment further on the leaked memo. EULEX refused to comment on why former head of the mission,Yves De Kermabon, wanted Kosovo to retain the PISCES border system, when it appeared to breach EU laws, but did admit that the mission used data from the programme.
“The mission will not comment on leaked documents,” Anne Blanksma, spokesperson for the police component of the mission,told Prishtina Insight. “Our staff is there for monitoring, mentoringand advising.”