122 arrests based on passenger data analysis last year

In 2022, a total of 122 people were arrested in cases of human trafficking, drug smuggling, theft with violence, parental kidnappings and customs seizures in Belgium through analysis of passenger data. Legal authorities discovered these cases through analysis of more than 28 million passenger movements to and from the country, performed by the Belgian Passenger Information Unit (BelPIU).

The Belgian Passenger Information Unit (BelPIU) has been tracking data on arrivals, departures or in transits in Belgium since 2018 as part of the fight against terrorism and organised crime. In 2022, BelPIU analysed about 28 million travel movements on almost 200,000 flights. A total of 803 "positive checks" were carried out, leading to 122 arrests. These included 53 arrests for offences of theft with violence, 46 for drug smuggling, 10 for parental abductions and seven for human trafficking. 191 hits in the system also contributed to other cases in the fight against terrorism.

However, an audit recently pointed out several problems surrounding passenger data analysis. Police officers allegedly go further than the law allows.

At Customs, 303 positive checks were recorded. 161 kilograms of drugs and 48.5 tonnes of illicit tobacco were seized. Customs traced the surreptitious import of diamonds with a total value of EUR 2.35 million and seized 398 counterfeit products, 492 pieces of medication and cosmetics and more than 1 tonne of (banned) food or animal products.

In late December, however, an audit pointed out several problems surrounding the passenger data analysis system. Following an investigation into the efficiency and proportionality of the system, the Supervisory body on police information (COC) discerned several problems, such as incorrect data being passed on, police forces receiving information too late or not acting on it, and passengers being unfairly stopped by customs or airport police forces. There are also legal questions because police officers at the Passenger Information Unit allegedly tend to go further than the law allows.




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