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Going Dark expert group – EU’s surveillance forge

The info-graphic is titled EU Going Dark with the subtitle: Surveillance Plan for the EU. Next to the headline is a text field labelled with: Objectives: Storage and Access. Below that a red text field labelled Data retention. Another text field labelled Access to data. From this text field, arrows point to a smartphone, to a radio symbol that stands for data during transmission, to a server and to a laptop with encrypted data.    Source: https://home-affairs.ec.europa.eu/networks/high-level-group-hlg-access-data-effective-law-enforcement_en#meetings
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· What is #EUGoingDark?
· What are the Pirates doing about this?
· The 42 key points of the secret #EUGoingDark surveillance plan
· The dark work methof of the #EUGoingDark group
· Media reports
· Documents

What is #EUGoingDark?

#EUGoingDark is our label for an EU working group set up by the EU Commission in June 2023. Its official name is the “High Level Group on Access to Data for Effective Law Enforcement” (website).
It is co-chaired by the EU Commission and the rotating EU Council Presidency, which are the governments of the EU member states.

Officially, the group is tasked with developing proposals for political strategies and laws on the challenges of digital law enforcement in an open process.

In reality, #EUGoingDark is a non-transparent surveillance forge: police forces and governments ignore civil society and want to reintroduce data retention and undermine encryption without being disturbed.
In short: undemocratic preliminary negotiations are being conducted in the dark, which will serve as a blueprint for future surveillance laws for the next EU Commission.

What are the Pirates doing about this?

We Pirates called for the dissolution of the undemocratic #EUGoingDark group early on. We are fighting for transparency, exchanging ideas with civil society and informing citizens. I have repeatedly requested documents on the meetings of the working group and its subgroups and often had to wait for months only to receive no, few or almost completely redacted documents. What we were able to gather, we have made accessible and analysed: my blog posts on #EUGoingDark. My view is:

“It is clear that undemocratic preliminary negotiations are being conducted here, including on the reintroduction of data retention, against encryption and on the introduction of the “Security by Design” concept, which would be better called “Surveillance by Design”. The group is undemocratic because NGOs and scientists are prevented from participating on an equal footing.”

The 42 key points of the secret #EUGoingDark surveillance plan

#EUGoingDark has done non-transparent political groundwork for reintroducing blanket retention of communication and location data of all citizens in the EU, and for weakening the encryption of data and communication.

In June 2024, I was finally able to see the confidential 42-point surveillance plan submitted to the new EU Commission as a wish list. It was leaked soon after.

Three sub-working groups have drawn up these plans:

Encryption: Law enforcement access to devices

The #EUGoingDark group aims to develop access and monitoring paths to our devices (e.g. smartphones, smart homes, cars) and applications. In doing so, it relies on industry cooperation, influencing technology standardisation committees and standardised access protocols. The group wants to establish the concept of “security by design” in the EU. This means that technology should be developed according to the wishes of police forces and intelligence services and designed to be interceptable from the outset. In short: investigating authorities should be able to gain access to data on all our end devices. Even if the group explicitly denies it, this is about backdoors in one form or another.

Data retention of citizen’s communications metadata

In a landmark judgement, the European Court of Justice overturned the then law on EU-wide data retention of telephone, internet and location data. Many EU governments ignored the judgement and put pressure on the ECJ. Over time, the ECJ has added ever more far-reaching exceptions to the ban on data retention. Instead of protecting citizens’ communications data, the #EUGoingDark group wants to reintroduce blanket mass surveillance. As far as is known, the Belgian model, which is already the subject of legal action, serves as a model.

Encryption: Law enforcement access to data in transit

The third #EUGoingDark sub-working group was also working on plans to undermine encryption. Its focus was on real-time access to data during transmission. Reliable encryption and “privacy preserving architecture[s]” (PDF) are a particular thorn in the side of the working group.

The secretive working methods of the #EUGoingDark group

Why the #EuGoingDark plan must not be the basis for political work
The #EuGoingDark plans were largely forged in secret to the exclusion of digital and fundamental rights organisations. Their agenda and objectives are politically one-sided; criticism is not welcome; solutions that protect fundamental rights and moderate proposals have been ignored. Transparency and collaboration were promised but not delivered.

And more fundamentally, the claim that law enforcement on the internet was increasingly “going dark” is merely a politically motivated myth. Studies show that this assertion is factually incorrect (see, among others: Harvard: “Don’t Panic Making Progress on the “Going Dark” Debate” or Cyber Science Centre Netherlands: “De rol van encryptie in de opsporing“).

Fundamental digital rights muted – surveillance PR instead
The EU Commission is hiding the participants of the #EUGoingDark group meetings. I have requested lists of participants several times, but so far have only received completely redacted documents. (My Toot on Mastodon.) All that is known is that police forces and secret services are represented. Despite the highly sensitive topics in terms of data protection and fundamental rights, the EU Data Protection Supervisor only has the status of an observer. NGOs are not allowed to take part in the group’s meetings. While fundamental rights are muted, the #EUGoingDark group is planning to influence the EU Parliament with targeted surveillance PR.

Politically one-sided preparatory work for new surveillance policies
The outcome of the working group are intended to serve the EU Commission as proposals for political strategies and new legislation. As these proposals were developed in a non-transparent manner from the outset and are one-sided in terms of content and politics, it will be very difficult to introduce alternative proposals that protect fundamental rights into the process in later phases of the political work on these topics.

No equal participation of civil society
Several NGOs and scientists have asked the #EUGoingDark working group to be invited to their working meetings. This did not happen. Instead, they were only invited to a public consultation (EDRi informed about this) but their contributions were not incorporated into the group’s work. Industry representatives, intelligence agencies, police representatives and, as Mullvad VPN reports, at least one former US intelligence officer were allowed to attend the actual meetings.

1st sleight of hand against transparency
The #EUGoingDark working group is blocking serious transparency with sleight of hand and ignorance. According to EU rules (Commission Decision C(2016)3301 PDF), expert groups and their sub-groups must be listed in the “Register of Commission expert groups and other similar bodies” (website). Among other things, the names of individual experts must be listed here. In order to circumvent transparency regulations, the “EU High-Level Expert Group (HLEG) on access to data for effective law enforcement” (PDF) has secretly renamed itself the “High-Level Group (HLG) (…)” (website / archive). Those responsible apparently believe they can use this sleight of hand to ignore EU rules and deceive EU citizens.

2nd sleight of hand against transparency
The #EUGoingDark working group has apparently secretly changed its own Rules of Procedure. The original version of 4 October 2023 (archive PDF) sets out more extensive transparency rules than the later version of 22 January 2024 (website PDF). I am submitting a written question to the EU Commission and requesting a statement (see my request dated 25 April 2024.)

Alternatives and risks are being ignored
As a result of a lack of transparency and a narrow focus, alternative solutions that protect fundamental rights are falling by the wayside. For example, the working group continues to pursue the outdated concept of blanket data retention of all citizens’ communications data, even though there is no evidence of its necessity or benefit (DE blog post). Sensible and urgently needed measures, such as better protection for children (DE blog post and my explanatory video), play no role in #EUGoingDark. At the same time, the working group ignores the dangers of indiscriminate mass surveillance to the fundamental rights and freedoms of EU citizens.

Media reports


  • 30.05.2024: Currently important: Secret minutes of a meeting of an EU committee of EU member states (published on netzpolitik.org)
  • 22.05.2024: Currently important: »Recommendations from the High-Level Group on Access to Data for Effective Law Enforcement« (PDF on netzpolitik.org) My statement on this.
  • 13.04.2023: »Scoping paper for the High-Level Expert Group on access to data for effective law enforcement « (PDF)
  • 06.06.2023: »Commission decision: Setting up a high-level group on access to data for effective law enforcement« (PDF)

Documents from my Freedom of Information request »Documents of the HLG on access to data for effective law enforcement and of its sub-groups«, received on 28.05.2024:

  • Doc. 1: Going Dark Flash Report, 17 January 2024 – not disclosed
  • Doc. 2: Data Retention: The Belgian Experience | “Thanks to this « Narrative » decision was made to repair again the Belgian law”
  • Doc. 3: CJEU Requirements on Data Retention
  • Doc. 4: Proximus – Operator perspective on the new Belgian data retention framework
  • Doc. 5: Presentation by ETSI
  • Doc. 6: Swedish providers response to geographically targeted retention – not disclosed
  • Doc. 7: Going Dark Flash Report, 13 February 2024 – not disclosed
  • Doc. 8: Presentation by the Belgian Police on real-time access to data stored on devices | front door approach
  • Doc. 9: LEON: Ways forward – not disclosed
  • Doc. 10: Europol’s presentation | Home Routing, SMS interceptoin challenges
  • Doc. 11: Admissibility of evidence from the receiving state’s perspective | “it seems essential to provide for regulation of encrypted communication services through the updating of Electronic Communications Codes”
  • Doc. 12: ETCI TC Cyber | “Provide on-line on the fly real time interception of OTT E2E communications”
  • Doc. 13: EU Science Hub | “Vulnerability management for Internal Security”
  • Doc. 14: Public Prosecution Service NL | “Real time interception and ECS in practice”, wiretapping of ECS vs ICS vs ISP, Microsoft Netherlands Kooperation
  • Doc. 15: EDRI | Note: „EDRi’s written contribution does not amount to a tacit agreement with the objectives of the HLG. What it does instead is to point to the narrow political agenda of the HLG which focuses on law enforcement interests solely. In particular, how law enforcement can get more access to data, without proper regard for the fundamental rights implications of the suggested solutions.“
  • Doc. 16: EACDTA | “Privacy concerns people, not machines. Machines, programs, have no consciousness and are therefore privacy agnostic.”, “llegal content detection technology”
  • Doc. 17: Going Dark Flash Report, 1 March 2024 – not disclosed
  • Doc. 18: French Ministry of the Interior | “Weapons systems: Pre-commercial procurement”
  • Doc. 19: ILNAS Luxembourg | New paradigm in the European standardization ecosystem – European Standardisation Strategy (COM(2022) 31)
  • Doc. 20: COM on the Access to Date stored on devices | “Increase and coordinate the EU effort to engage with identified relevant standardisation bodies.”, “Handbook outlining how to engage with industry to gain insight into the legal processes to gain access to data stored in users’ devices.”, “Legislation for tackling the use of encryption devices which have been proven to be solely used for the purpose of communication between criminal actors.”, “Set obligations for technology providers to facilitate access to data at rest in user’s devices when requested by judicial authorities, for example by providing technical assistance.”
  • Doc. 21: COM presentation on data retention| “address open challenges such as non-unique IP addresses lack of geolocation or encryption”, “create a level playing field for all electronic communication service providers, including OTTs.”, “Foster Member States’ involvement in setting up standardised formats for data retention and access, based on ETSI standards (notably for categories of data currently not covered by standards).”