The Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment 2017, Europol’s flagship product, represents the outcome of the largest data collection on serious and organised crime ever undertaken in the European Union (EU). Europol has been able to use its singular intelligence capability as the European information hub for criminal intelligence to analyse and identify the key crime threats facing the EU. These include cyber crime, illicit drugs, migrant smuggling, organised property crime and the trafficking of human beings.
In the SOCTA 2017, Europol recommends key priorities designed to tackle the most threatening forms of serious and organised crime. In addition to five specific priority types of crime threat initiated by organised criminals in the EU, Europol is also recommending a focus is placed on three cross-cutting threats that enable (or otherwise enhance) all types of serious and organised crime.
The five specific priority crime threats are:
*Cyber crime: Cyber crime is a key challenge to digital economies and societies. Cyber-dependent crime is underpinned by a mature Crime-as-a-Service model, providing easy access to the tools and services required to carry out cyber attacks
*Drug production, trafficking and distribution: Drug markets remain the largest criminal markets in the EU. More than one third of the criminal groups active in the EU are involved in the production, trafficking or distribution of various types of drugs. The industrial-scale production of synthetic drugs within the EU continues to expand and cements the EU as a key source region for these substances distributed worldwide
*Migrant smuggling: Migrant smuggling has emerged as a highly profitable and widespread criminal activity for organised crime groups in the EU. The migrant smuggling business is now a large, profitable and sophisticated criminal market comparable to the European drug markets
*Organised property crime: Organised property crime encompasses a range of different criminal activities carried out predominantly by mobile organised crime groups operating across the EU. A steady increase in the number of reported burglaries over recent years is a particular concern in many of the EU’s Member States
*Trafficking in human beings: Organised crime groups involved in the trafficking of human beings often exploit existing migratory routes to traffic their victims within the EU. While the migration crisis hasn’t yet had a widespread impact on trafficking in human beings for labour exploitation in the EU, some investigations show that traffickers are increasingly targeting irregular migrants and asylum seekers in the EU for exploitation
The three cross-cutting threats are document fraud, money laundering and the online trade in illicit goods and services which, taken together, are seen as the ‘engines’ of organised crime. These cross-cutting criminal threats enable and facilitate most, if not all, other types of serious and organised crime.
Disrupting document fraud, money laundering schemes and the online trade in illicit goods and services will significantly reduce the ability of organised crime groups to grow their businesses and expand into new markets.
Crime in the age of technology
In the SOCTA 2017, Europol highlights in particular the role of technology. Criminals have always been adept at exploiting technology. However, the rate of technological innovation and the ability of organised criminals to adapt to technologies have been increasing steadily over recent years. Developments such as the emergence of the online trade in illicit goods and services are set to result in significant shifts in criminal markets and confront law enforcement authorities with new challenges.
Drone technology is expected to advance, allowing drones to travel greater distances and carry heavier loads. Organised crime groups involved in drug trafficking will likely invest in drone technology for trafficking purposes in order to avoid checks at border crossing points, ports and airports.
Organised crime groups make use of various online services to facilitate their burglaries. This includes checking on social media platforms whether individuals are away from targeted residences and scouting targeted neighbourhoods using free online navigation tools.
Data has become a key commodity for criminals. Increasing Internet connectivity by members of the public, businesses and the public sector – along with the exponentially growing number of connected devices and sensors as part of the Internet of Things – will create new opportunities for criminals.
In many ways, the profit-driven nature of organised crime is qualitatively different to terrorism. A nexus between the two exists, however, and may be expanding. Although the pursuit of criminal activities in support of terrorist activities isn’t a new phenomenon, the involvement of terrorist suspects with extensive criminal backgrounds and access to the resources and tools of organised crime networks in terrorism is a notable trend.
Europol’s SOCTA serves as the cornerstone of the EU Policy Cycle for organised and serious international crime. It’s the product of close co-operation between Europol, the law enforcement authorities of the Member States, EU agencies and third parties such as international organisations and countries outside of the EU harbouring operational or strategic agreements with Europol.
The SOCTA analyses and describes criminal markets and crime areas in the EU and gives recommendations for the EU Policy Cycle. The Standing Committee on operational co-operation on internal security (COSI) will use the recommendations of the SOCTA to define the EU crime priorities for the coming four years that will be adopted by the Council of Justice and Home Affairs ministers.
The 2017 SOCTA is the second edition and follows on from the inaugural edition released in 2013.