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  • Red Notice Monitor

Interpol Confirms It Has No Ability to Block or Withdraw Abusive Wanted Person’s Diffusions

By Roger Sahota, Partner at Berkeley Square Solicitors, London, and Red Notice Monitor Editor

Photo by: KeepCoding

One of the mechanisms by which Interpol member states can circulate information about wanted persons to the National Central Bureaus (NCB’s) of other member states is by way of a Wanted Person Diffusion (“WPD”).

WPD’s are not published by Interpol on their database. Instead, Interpol facilitates the dissemination of WPD’s which take the form of email messages passed between the NCB’s of member states. Once despatched by the NCB, diffusions are immediately received by the recipient NCB in member countries in an email format.

Following the publication of a new “Compliance and Review” section on Interpol’s website a few weeks ago (see our earlier blog here) it is now clear that, unlike Red Notice applications, which are reviewed prior to publication, Interpol does not have the technical ability to block abusive WPD’s before they are transmitted to other NCB’s.

Instead, the inherent design of the system means that WPD’s cannot be vetted by Interpol until after they are despatched.

This information is not new – Interpol’s Rules on the Processing of Data (‘RPD”) states that diffusions are “sent directly to one or several [NCBs] or to one or several international entities, and simultaneously recorded in a police database of the Organization.”

What has not been made publicly available until now however is the further information now available on Interpol’s website providing an overview of how Interpol’s Red Notices and Diffusions Task Force (NDTF) conducts this ex post facto vetting process of WPD’s.

Generally speaking, the way in which the NDTF scrutinises Red Notices, WPD’s and other diffusions is identical (as documented in our earlier blog here) save for the following points of distinction which apply to WPD’s:

  • When a WPD is transmitted to a recipient NCB “the email warns that these Diffusions are subject to legal review and have not been authorized by the General Secretariat.”

  • If a WPD is deemed to be non-compliant and it has already been circulated to member countries prior to review, the General Secretariat will inform NCBs in all recipient countries of the decision and request that they update their national databases accordingly.

  • When a WPD is deemed non-compliant the requesting NCB will be informed of the decision and the underlying reasons.

Interpol has a come a long way in recent times in recognising both the possibility of member states abusing its information sharing systems and its responsibility to prevent such abuse. The technical limitations of the WPD system, which provides only for post transmission reviews as it stands, clearly provides an opportunity for rogue states to exploit this weakness in Interpol’s IT architecture for their own ends.

As the Interpol academic Dr Ted Bromund pointed out in 2019, it is within the remit of Interpol’s member states, expressing their will through the democratic process in a vote of the General Assembly to move to take steps to effect a “fundamental rewiring of the diffusion system.” Reform could take the shape of replacing the current “point to point system of communication” with the “hub and spoke model” that applies to Red Notices. Change is unlikely however, while the situation described by Dr Bromund several years ago still reflects the reality today:

“There is no evidence that the majority of INTERPOL’s member states are currently dissatisfied with the diffusion system. This may be because INTERPOL’s members believe the system is not being abused, or it may be because they believe it affords them the ability to circumvent INTERPOL’s obligation to prevent abuse. But whatever the reason, the fact is that there does not appear to be support for the fundamental reworking at a technical level of the diffusion system which would be necessary to allow INTERPOL to screen diffusions before transmission.”


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