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How to avoid unlawful profiling – a guide

In policing and border management, officials increasingly use profiling to support their work. But is it always lawful? The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights’ updated guide helps answer this question with tips on how to avoid unlawful profiling.

The guide on how to avoid unlawful profiling provides practical guidance on how to avoid unlawful profiling through examples, case studies, and case law from across the EU and beyond.

It is primarily aimed at police and border guard trainers. However, it is also useful for law enforcement and border management officials who need to understand how to do profiling lawfully when carrying out stop and search operations or border checks, for example.

The guide can help boost public trust and confidence in policing and border control by reducing biased and seemingly discriminatory checks. This in turn, helps improves the effectiveness of policing and border management, and ultimately increases security and safety.

It outlines what is meant by profiling and when it becomes unlawful. Unlawful profiling includes, and goes beyond, discriminatory ethnic profiling. It covers discrimination based on all grounds such as ethnicity, age, nationality and gender, as well as data protection and privacy.

In doing so, it underlines how profiling, if done incorrectly, can undermine community relations and trust. It also gives examples of good practices and principles that should be used. These include:

  • Do not use characteristics like ethnicity or religion as the sole basis for singling out individuals.
  • Be respectful, professional and informative in dealing with the public.
  • Base stops and checks on facts not feelings.
  • Always keep accurate and reliable data about profiling so officials can be monitored and held to account.
  • Always respect data protection safeguards in computer-based profiling; understand fundamental rights when building algorithms or using them.

The guide builds on FRA’s 2010 edition in light of the EU’s tighter data protection rules that apply since May 2018. It also reflects technological advances, particularly the ever-growing use of computer algorithms to analyse large datasets for profiling.

It has also been expanded from law enforcement to also cover border management. In addition, discriminatory profiling on all grounds, rather than just a focus on ethnic profiling, which was thoroughly covered in the first edition.

The guide is available in English. Other language versions will follow.