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UK will be 'cut off' from 'full intelligence picture' after Brexit – Europol strategy man

Concerns about cybersecurity info sharing shared in interview

The UK will “certainly be cut off from the full intelligence picture” after Brexit, Europol's acting head of strategy for cybercrime warned The Register. This comes after UK law enforcement agencies from the National Crime Agency to Police Scotland have been meeting with Europol in an attempt to mitigate this.

Phillipp Amann, a senior strategic analyst of the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) at Europol, and currently its acting head of strategy, warned that the UK was facing severe limitations in its ability to collaborate with the continent on security matters after it leaves the EU.

Amann told The Register that the National Crime Agency and Police Scotland had been in discussions with Europol regarding maintaining access to the EU-wide intelligence sharing platforms following Britain's departure from the politico-economic union.

The UK currently chairs the European Cybercrime Task Force (EUCTF), which harmonises the trans-jurisdictional fight against cybercrime. Not only would this be impossible once the UK has left the EU, but access to security databases such as the Europol Information System would be withdrawn following Brexit.

“They would certainly be cut off,” Amann said of the UK. “They wouldn't have access to the full intelligence picture. You won't have the same visibility that you would have as a full EU member.”

Amann, an Austrian national who speaks English with a gentle Irish inflection, said he did not think Brexit would create weaknesses for either the EU or the UK when it came to dealing with cybersecurity, but said it would become “more complex to achieve the same that they can achieve now".

“If you're part of the EU you have full access to all of the information systems we have. If you are a non-EU member but we have an operational agreement then we can still share operational data,” Amann explained, “but you won't have access to certain systems and also you certainly wouldn't have access and you wouldn't be part of any governance group that would decide on the priorities.”

Europol has had “a number of meetings” – which Amann thinks is a “really good sign” – with British law enforcement, including the National Crime Agency and Police Scotland, to explore what the opportunities are for continued information sharing in the future: “I get the sense that they're very much aware of what's likely going to happen and what I think is really promising is that they're already starting to look at mitigation strategies and really explore what we can do and what the potential consequences are.”

Although no full assessment has been made of those consequences, Amann said all the actors involved are trying to get as much information as possible about those potential consequences.

What happens after Article 50?

Europol is receiving a new legal framework from May of next year, Amann told us. The UK has an opt-in for this service, and even though the UK will not have left the EU by then, Article 50 may not have even been triggered by that time, the nation's decision regarding that legal framework is going to be an indicator of its approach to security collaborations after Brexit.

The UK has been “a very strong partner” to Europol, not only in dealing with cybercrime but also in the arenas of counter-terrorism and migration. “Those are other areas where [the UK] would potentially lose access to the full intelligence picture,” said Amann. “They will certainly lose the ability to steer the process, what are we going to do, what are we going to focus on.”

I wouldn't call it weaknesses but what is certainly likely to happen is that, whatever they have in place right now, whatever communicational processes or operational agreements they have, it will become, with the Brexit, much more complicated, more costly, more resource intense, to maintain the same level of capability.

It “could be” the case that Europol's intelligence picture would be equally damaged by Brexit, Amann conceded. There are currently a number of non-EU partners who share offices at Europol in the Hague. “There are a number of examples of other countries who are in that category,” Amann added, but said the UK was “certainly going to lose some capabilities at the governance level”.

Neither the National Crime Agency nor the newly formed Department for Exiting the EU had responded to The Register's enquiries at the time of publication. ®

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