Civil liberty fear over EU anti-terrorism plan

EUROPEAN leaders have agreed a series of anti-terrorism measures that will put almost everyone in the EU under surveillance, according to civil liberties’ groups.

Many of the strategies were agreed but not implemented after the 9/11 attacks in the US but following the Madrid bombings the countries agreed to reinforce their fight against terrorism.

Statewatch, an organisation monitoring civil liberties in the EU, says many of the measures go beyond targeting terrorists and can be used against ordinary citizens. It accuses EU leaders of exploiting the Madrid tragedy to push through unwarranted laws.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern denied this and said that the measures were needed to ensure people do not die in terrorist bombings.

"Terrorism is a threat to all our security, to democracy and our way of life. We will do everything in our power to protect our people," he said.

The measures include:

All telecommunications, including phone calls, faxes, e-mails and internet, must be logged and retained, starting in June 2005.

A European register of convictions and disqualifications.

A European database of forensic material.

Passports and visas to have 'biometric' identifiers by March 2005 which means fingerprinting all holders.

Keeping track of all data of air passenger and those who cross borders.

According to Statewatch 27 of the 57 measures have little to do with tackling terrorism but instead are targeting crime in general.

"Under the guise of tackling terrorism the EU is planning to bring in a swathe of measures to do with crime and the surveillance of the whole population," said Tony Bunyon of Statewatch.

Deadlines were agreed for introducing directives into national law including the Common Arrest Warrant by June. However, Statewatch pointed out promised safeguards for suspects and defendants have not been drawn up yet.

The surveillance breaches the European Convention of Human Rights on rights to privacy and is out of proportion to what the state needs to counter terrorism, according to Statewatch.

It accuses Justice Minister Michael McDowell and the Irish presidency of suggesting there are only two alternatives surveillance on everyone or surveillance on no-one.

The Police Chiefs Task Force has been asked to report on the Madrid bombings while countries evaluate their national arrangements in the fight against terrorism by September.

To encourage countries to share intelligence the leaders agreed to appoint former Dutch Justice Minister Gijs de Vries, to co-ordinate counter-terrorism.

Another contentious issue was linking development aid with countries willingness to co-operate on terrorism. Spokesperson for BOND, (the agency representing British organisations involved in the Third World) Howard Mollett said: "Aid risks becoming a tool in the war on terror."

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