Databases as a means of combating organised crime within the EU

Publication Date05 Jan 2010
AuthorConstantin Stefanou
SubjectAccounting & finance
Databases as a means
of combating organised crime
within the EU
Constantin Stefanou
Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, London, UK
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to examine the use of EU-wide databases as a means of
combating organised crime.
Design/methodology/approach The paper looks at three specific examples of proposed
databases: networking national criminal records; the creation of a European criminal record; and a
database for investigations and prosecutions.
Findings – The paper concludes that, while such databases are feasible and useful tools in
combating organised crime, until there is progress in harmonising criminal law and procedure they
will be resisted by Member States.
Practical implications – EU-wide databases are feasible and can assist in combating organised
Originality/value – The paper has value for researchers, practitioners and policymakers.
Keywords Databases, Crimes,European Union
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
Using databases to combat crime is not a recent discovery. For decades enforcement
agencies around the world kept “files” or “dossiers” on crimes, suspects and methods in
an attempt to prevent crime or prosecute criminals. It was, in fact, the ability to make
efficient use of such databases that distinguished – and often labelled – enforcement
agencies as “good” or “bad”. Thus, it was the legendary ability of Sc otland Yard to
make efficient use of its databases (“files”) that made it the envy of the Western world
and elevated it to the position of being one of a few basic police models around the
The “digital revolution” in the last 30-years has made a big difference in the use of
databases as a means of combating criminal activity. In most countries there are now
one ore more digital databases on various criminal activities maintained by
enforcement agencies or judicial authorities. For example, nowadays it is stand ard
border control practice to have passport details checked against national, Europea n and
international databases. Within the EU the Schengen Information System database are
used widely for internal and external (border control) purposes[1]. In order to assist
national efforts international organisations too maintain and use databases. For
example, the United Nations (UN, 2000) has a database on the trafficking in human
beings, UN while international enforcement agencies, such as Interpol, urge its
membership to make full use of existing databases (Interpol Media Release, 2004),
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Journal of Financial Crime
Vol. 17 No. 1, 2010
pp. 100-115
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/13590791011009392
e.g. the Interpol I-24/7 exchange information system[2]). More recently the
Organization of American States (2005, p. 2) proposed the use of databases as a
means of combating transnational organised crime. It is obvious that the creation and
maintenance of databases on criminal activity at the national and international levels is
not uncommon.
It appears almost self-evident that the cross referencing of computerised databases
is an obvious and powerful practical tool in the hands of national and international
authorities. However, appearances can be deceptive. The rise of organised crime is, of
course, a global phenomenon and, therefore, it can be tackled effectively primarily
through global cooperation. National databases on criminal activities could be
particularly helpful when it comes to transnational crime but in practice they are not
because police and judicial cooperation have been ineffective. Clearly, the way forward
must be the creation of databases at the European or international levels; but is the use
of such databases feasible or are there limitations in the gathering, updating and use of
information for the successful prosecution of offenders?
This paper examines the idea of using EU-wide databases as a means of combating
organised crime[3]. It argues that the creation of databases on criminal activity at the
EU level such as the European criminal record (ECR) or a database on investigations
and prosecutions is a reasonable and effective tool for combating organised crime.
2. Problem identification: tackling organised crime within the EU
Despite the fact that organised crime within the EU had been steadily rising in the last
15 years it was not until the late 1990s that the EU addressed the issue directly. The
finger was, and still is, invariably pointed to Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet
Republics. As reported back in 1999 (European Commission Forward Studies Unit,
1999) numerous organised criminal organisations – usually labelled “mafia(s)”
operated in Europe and had concentrated their activities on financial crime (e.g. money
laundering, banking and the financial system and public tenders).
The root of the problem with organised crime in the EU can be traced to the
establishment of the single market and the four freedoms which created opportunities
for legitimate and illegitimate activities. New transnational criminal organisations
emerged as a result of the four freedoms and because at the time of the establishment of
the single market the Member States had not given this problem a lot of attention
serious transnational and organised crime has consistently been ahead of the law at the
EU and national levels. Thus, criminal organisations are now in a position to utilise the
four freedoms to their advantage by choosing one of 27 different jurisdictions that best
serves their purposes either because of its existing legal framework or because of lax
implementation of legislation. For example, a criminal organisation involved in the
illegal trade in human organs will probably want to establish itself and operate mainly
out of Austria, where trade in human organs is a quasi-administrative/quasi-criminal
offence[4] and avoid at all costs Germany where in addition to heavy sentences the
German legal system accepts the principle of extraterritoriality[5]. In other words, the
four freedoms have allowed organised crime a choice of territory and judicial system.
The obvious danger is that particular Member States may be targeted by organised
crime for particular types of criminal activity, because that jurisdiction offers some sort
of advantage to the operations of the criminal organisation.
of combating
organised crime

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