Search via Interpol: What is Interpol?
Interpol stands for International Criminal Police Organisation. The organisation has its headquarters in Lyon and, with 190 member states, constitutes the second largest international organisation after the United Nations (UN). Interpol aims for more intensive international cooperation where police work is concerned, thus supporting national police in its member states in an age of globalisation and of the internationalisation of crime. Interpol’s responsibilities lie mostly in the provision of databases and information for global communication between the member states, and among other things, they notify member states of searches for persons in other countries.
How does Interpol work?
The main task for Interpol is the coordination and execution of the exchange of information between the different member states. In this context, Interpol differentiates between “Notices” and “Diffusions”. “Notices” are sent from the relevant member states to Interpol. Interpol in turn is responsible for forwarding the information to other states, or rather for feeding it into their information platforms, so that it becomes possible to search for the defendant there. These “Notices” are categorised according to the type of request and given corresponding colours.
Thus, a “Red Notice” is issued where there is a request for the arrest of an individual with the objective of extradition. Therefore, a “Red Notice” marks the beginning of a search in different countries in order to then commence extradition proceedings. Such a notice is sent by one member state, together with a national arrest warrant. It describes the crimes of the person sought, but also contains data such as previous prison sentences or the maximum sentence to be expected for the crime. It is important to know that every state evaluates this notice on its own and decides whether an arrest warrant should be issued. This only changes in the presence of certain extradition agreements between the two affected countries.
So-called “Diffusions” are less formal types of alerts. They are also used to forward requests for arrest or for the ascertainment of the defendant’s whereabouts to the member states. Such a “Diffusion” is communicated directly by the relevant Interpol National Centre Bureau (NCB) of a state (in Germany the Federal Criminal Office) to any member state or the entire Interpol network. This ensures that a person can be entered into the police system of each member state within a very short time. Corrupt states use this method to have all Interpol member states search for one person without high hurdles. These “Diffusions”, just like “Notices”, are categorised according to the type of request and marked with colours, and are otherwise treated the same way.
Interpol is recognised by the UN as an international organisation. However, this does not in and of itself confer any competencies on Interpol, as the principle of national sovereignty continues to apply. To review the information distributed and forwarded by Interpol, the “Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files” (CCF) has been established. The Commission is independent and has three main tasks:
- Ensuring that Interpol complies with data protection requirements
- Assisting with questions surrounding operations that require information on a specific person
- Reacting to applications on the part of member states concerning Interpol and Interpol’s data
Particularly where a Red Notice is issued, its subsequent deletion for illegitimacy after inspection by the CCF is not a rare occurrence. The CCF can further dismiss an application for the issue of a Red Notice by a member state if that state is in conflict with the rules of Interpol itself or the UN Human Rights Charter. Moreover, an application can be dismissed if it was made solely for political, religious, military or ethical reasons.
Interpol in Germany
In Germany, INPOL is used to effect the exchange of information between the German police and the German Federal Criminal Office. The Federal Criminal Office acts as a central contact point in Germany. The Interpol member states can access the INPOL databases for research purposes. That way, other member states can, inter alia, obtain information on searches for persons in Germany or trace searches for stolen vehicles.