Europe’s top crime agency won plaudits and publicity for its novel way of trying to catch criminals.
Europol launched an advent calendar that will reveal one of the EU’s most-wanted fugitives or suspected criminals every day in the run-up to Christmas.
But the spike in publicity surrounding it hides a bizarre flaw – the agency isn’t allowed to publish full pictures of the criminals’ faces.
Data protection rules means Europol cannot publish the images on its social media channels like Twitter and Facebook, undermining a key plank of a campaign whose focus is to create publicity and get the public to identify the criminals.
“It would be nice that we don’t have to deal with these kinds of small issues but otherwise it’s part of law and the protection of people and their rights,” Gerrit van de Kamp, chairman of the European Police Union, told Euronews.
“Sometimes it is frustrating but it is part of our job,” he added.
Europol said it has to adhere to differing data protection rules across the EU’s 28 member states, meaning it has to find a one-size-fits-all solution.
For example, some countries allow suspects’ photos to be published on social networks, others don’t.
Europol spokesman Gerald Hesztera told Euronews that if the photo of a suspect was still in circulation after he or she had been caught, that could influence whether the person gets a fair trial or not.
He added data protection rules consider a photo with the eyes blacked out as being sufficient to prevent identification.
Europol is able to publish the photos in full on its website and in videos, as the rules consider that these can be deleted if the suspect is caught.
Hesztera said the rules around social networks remain, even though tweets and Facebook posts can also be deleted.