INTERPOL makes the world a safer place
Far from showing need for reform, the recent case of William Browder highlights how INTERPOL protects the rights of individuals and its member states.
Opinion Editorial by INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble
The Telegraph Online
Every now and then, a highly publicised case surfaces involving the use of INTERPOL by one of its 190 member countries in a way that could be considered political. When it happens, various commentators rush to criticise INTERPOL, proposing reforms which demonstrate that their knowledge of the organisation and of its functioning is frequently incomplete, or just plain wrong.
A close examination of INTERPOL's handling of these types of cases, however, should reinforce the view that INTERPOL needs no major reforms.
The case involving William Browder, head of the Hermitage Capital Investment Foundation, provides an opportunity to both correct the public record and demonstrate how INTERPOL's handling of the personal data transmitted via its channels and stored in its databases helps to keep the world safer, while protecting both the rights of individuals and the national sovereignty of INTERPOL member countries.
Earlier this month, the Russian Federation sought the location of Mr Browder via INTERPOL channels in connection with proceedings against him by a Moscow court. Russia neither sought his arrest nor asked INTERPOL to issue its own formal notification seeking member countries' assistance to locate Mr Browder. Russia did everything under the name of the Russian Federation.
Nonetheless, since INTERPOL channels were used, safeguards exist that would have permitted the UK – where Mr Browder is a citizen – or any other INTERPOL member country, in addition to Mr Browder himself, to challenge the use of INTERPOL channels for this purpose.
In fact, none of INTERPOL’s 190 member countries objected to the Russian Federation's attempt to locate Mr Browder via INTERPOL.
Yet the strength of INTERPOL's Constitution and rules is that it takes just one individual to challenge the sending of his personal data through INTERPOL channels. And this is exactly what William Browder did.
Because of the strength of Mr Browder’s challenge, when the Russian Federation used Interpol’s channels to seek his location, that very same day Interpol’s General Secretariat exercised its discretion to make the Russian request inaccessible to all member countries, while advising them of its actions. No member country searching Interpol’s databases would have found any information on Mr Browder once the technical steps were taken to implement that decision.
Such measures by the General Secretariat reduce the possibility of a person being detained or arrested based on a request received via INTERPOL channels but under consideration by either the Office of Legal Affairs and/or the independent Commission for the Control of INTERPOL's Files (CCF).
If, despite being aware of such ongoing review, a member country still decides to take action on the information in question, then that is its decision, and one for which it alone must be accountable for.
On Friday 24 May, the CCF ruled that the Russian Federation's request to seek the location of William Browder was predominantly political in nature and therefore prohibited under INTERPOL's rules and regulations. It recommended that all data relating to the Russian Federation's request and to Mr Browder be deleted. A decision INTERPOL’s General Secretariat endorsed and immediately implemented.
Unfortunately, based on a misunderstanding of INTERPOL or of the facts, some commentators on this case made one of the most dangerous proposals I have heard as Secretary General of INTERPOL: that the Russian Federation and other countries not be permitted to use INTERPOL's communication channels as ‘punishment’ if they are found to have used INTERPOL in violation of its rules.
Imagine if the Russian Federation wanted to share information on a suspected terrorist – as it did on Boston marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev – but could not use INTERPOL's network. Or that a dangerous criminal was on his way to the Russian Federation to escape justice, but its authorities could not be alerted via INTERPOL channels. Luckily, this wasn’t the case last February, when a suspect in an attempted murder in Bucharest was arrested by Russian police at Romania’s request.
Wouldn't these same commentators want their countries to be warned by the Russian Federation about suspected child sex offenders, human traffickers, rapists or murderers? Wouldn’t they want their police to have access to the tens of thousands of records shared via INTERPOL by member countries? Of course, they would.
INTERPOL's network allows countries to share information about people both under investigation or sought for arrest. But that information does not legally bind any member country to take any action.
Any country that does not wish to receive any information or request for arrest from another country can simply direct its law enforcement authorities to ignore such requests. Similarly, INTERPOL’s rules allow countries to decide with which countries they wish to cooperate, and under what circumstances.
INTERPOL cannot compel any member country to seek the arrest of any person. Countries acting or not acting on information received via INTERPOL do so voluntarily and according to their national laws, which take precedence over INTERPOL's rules at the national level.
If any country chooses to do or not do something with information received via INTERPOL channels, it should explain why to its citizens and the world. If the information comes from a country it does not trust, it can put in place whatever safeguards it wishes at the national level.
But all countries that use INTERPOL channels must comply with its Constitution and rules concerning the treatment and processing of personal data if they wish that personal data to remain accessible to other countries.
In our ever-changing world, INTERPOL is constantly reviewing and refining its systems and controls. For example, in 2008 INTERPOL strengthened the CCF's status, and in 2012 we adopted a new set of data processing rules which continue to conform to the highest standards of data protection.
In other words, if one takes the time to closely and objectively examine even the most highly publicised and controversial of cases involving INTERPOL, one would conclude that commentators and the public need to be better informed about INTERPOL, not that INTERPOL needs to be reformed.