Special investigative measures

The internationalisation and increasing sophistication of crime requires law enforcement, judicial investigators and other practitioners to call upon a growing range of tools. To this end, national authorities in the Member States may use special investigative techniques to detect crimes, and investigate and apprehend suspects.

While techniques such as interception of telecommunications, surveillance and undercover operations are widely recognised as cross-border investigative measures in the Member States of the European Union, countries may have different legal requirements for using these tools. For example, the principle of proportionality and the permitted duration of usage may differ, in which case the involvement of an independent coordinator, such as Eurojust, can help to ensure the tools are applied in an appropriate and consistent manner.

Examples of measures

Special investigative measures include techniques for gathering information systematically in such a way as not to allow the target person to know of them, such as the following:

  • controlled deliveries;
  • cross-border surveillance;
  • cross-border hot pursuit;
  • hearing by videoconference;
  • interception of telecommunications;
  • secret search of a computer system;
  • surveillance; and
  • undercover operations.

Measures in detail

Controlled deliveries, surveillance, and hot pursuit

Following the implementation of the Schengen Agreement of 14 June 1985, the gradual abolition of checks at common borders within the European Union has provided criminals avenues to conduct certain serious crimes, such as trafficking in human beings, as well as drugs trafficking and trafficking of illicit goods.

In response, law enforcement authorities in separate Member States have adopted so-called flanking measures; i.e. measures necessary to maintain law and order in a Union without borders. These techniques, which may be used to monitor and apprehend suspects, include controlled deliveries, cross-border surveillance and cross-border hot pursuit. More information on controlled delivery, an investigative tool that permits transportations of illegal or suspect consignments to exit, cross, or enter the territory of one or more Member States, can be found here.

Hearing by videoconference

A videoconference is a form of telecommunications technology that enables simultaneous communication between multiple locations by way of two-way video and audio transmissions. In legal proceedings, videoconference hearings enable information collected in one country, for example in the form of suspect interviews or witness statements, to be used as evidence during a trial taking place in another State, allowing authorities to speed up cross-border proceedings and reduce costs.

Interception of telecommunications

Intercepting phone and internet communications can help law enforcement to investigate specific types of crimes, including those of a cross-border nature. In particular, the use of interception to record conversations and data can play a key role in gathering evidence against suspected criminals in order to effectively prosecute the targets.

Undercover operation

An undercover operation is a technique whereby a law enforcement officer disguises his or her identity or uses a false identity to infiltrate a criminal organisation for the purpose of obtaining evidence for use in the investigation and/or prosecution of suspected targets. The identity of such an officer will usually be kept secret up to and including the trial stage. In some Member States, undercover intelligence-gathering is subject to strict regulation, and only permissible if there is a clear indication of criminal activity being committed.