(This is the fourth post in a series about the CCF's Annual Report for 2012)
In his speech to the General Assembly last month, the Chairman of the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL's Files raised several issues for the GA's consideration, and among them was the invitation to work with the General Secretariat to update INTERPOL's rules.
The idea of yet another change to the rules likely evokes sighs of exasperation from the members of the working group on the processing of information, who in 2012 saw the results of its Herculean efforts when the new Rules on the Processing of Data became effective. The modifications and streamlining of the Rules (formerly the Rules on the Processing of Information, or RPI), was a very necessary endeavor, which naturally involved a great deal of time and effort.
So why tweak them even more?
Chairman Hawkes is right when he says that continued change is needed. As INTERPOL grows, member countries have increasing access to personal data of individuals. Most of the time, member countries use their INTERPOL access for legitimate law enforcement goals. However, there are also increasing opportunities for - and instances of - abuse by some member countries. The CCF is INTERPOL's means of safeguarding its own reputation as a legitimate international organization, so as INTERPOL evolves, so should the CCF.
One very small example provided by Chairman Hawkes is that of disclosing to individuals whether information exists about them within INTERPOL's databases. As it stands, that disclosure is only allowed under limited circumstances, ostensibly due to INTERPOL's concerns that 1) member countries own the data that it is safeguarding, and 2) it is more difficult to apprehend subjects, such as Red Notice subjects, when they know that a notice exists.
These concerns no longer serve as valid bases for denying information to individuals. By the time a person is contacting INTERPOL regarding their own data, the cat is out of the bag and someone or something has already alerted them to the fact that INTERPOL is assisting in efforts to find, track, or apprehend them. Nothing is lost by confirming this information, which may have been processed improperly. On the other hand, the refusal to confirm it may lead to the person's wrongful apprehension, and may prejudice his ability to challenge the notice.
For this reason, when Chairman Hawkes says,
It may be appropriate for the Organisation to consider changes taking place in the international environment on issues such as the right to know whether information exists on an individual, without necessarily disclosing its content. The Commission remains ready to work with the General Secretariat on any updating to the Organisation's Rules that might be considered appropriate to take account of these international developments...
... he is right. As INTERPOL is functioning in the context of multiple "right to know" or "right to information" campaigns and organizations, like Article19, Freedom of Information Advocates Network, and freedominfo.org, it can only maintain credibility if it keeps up with the international community's standards on human rights.
As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.