Anti-terror drive poses risk to civil liberties, says EU study

By Stephen Castle
Tuesday 28 January 2014 04:44

Civil liberties across Europe are under threat from electronic surveillance, under-cover operations and tough anti-terror laws put in place after the 11 September terror attacks, an EU report by independent experts alleges.

The document, which singles out the United Kingdom in several areas, criticises the rush to implement anti-terrorism legislation and argues that it might not be proportionate to the threat.

Compiled by experts in all member states, the report says anti-terrorist measures can "result in interference with private life or with the secrecy of communications, due to increased possibilities of using undercover agents", restrict the rights of defendants, and lead to "exceptional forms of detention".

It also says specifically that legislation giving the British Government the right to extend arrest and detention powers over foreign nationals might be inconsistent with the UK's international obligations.

The network of experts was set up in October 2002 by the European Commission at the request of MEPs. Their first annual report says undercover work by security services has increased.

The researchers add: "States have tended to infiltrate terrorist organisations and increasingly used special methods of investigation such as infiltration by agents, monitoring and interception of communications." Such methods were a "potential threat to privacy", particularly when deployed before any offence had actually taken place.

The report is also concerned at the imprecise definition of terrorist offences, used to justify "special methods of inquiry" resulting in a "major interference in private life".

And the dossier expresses deep concern over increased collaboration with America on security issues. "There are doubts at this time as to whether the protection offered by the US is adequate."

Several areas of transatlantic liaison are cited, included the passage of information from Europol, which co-ordinates information among EU police forces. "The absence of an independent control authority competent for supervising the transmission of data by Europol and the uses made of this data by the US authorities is grounds for particular concern."

Tony Bunyan, the editor of Statewatch magazine, which monitors civil liberties, said: "The report says responses to terrorism must be kept to a strict minimum, be temporary and be targeted in a way that does not affect others. Yet the response of EU governments has been to propose measures that place the population, or sections of it, under wholesale surveillance."

The independent experts' report also highlights moves, favoured in particular by the German authorities, to create terrorist profiles, targeting groups of individual who are thought to be more likely to warrant attention.

They say that such a system "can only be accepted in the presence of a fair, statistically significant demonstration of the correlation between these characteristics and the risk of terrorists, a demonstration that has not been made at this time." Groups targeted are likely to suffer "serious violation of their right of presumption of innocence," it concludes.

Overall, the document concludes that: "Independent control mechanisms must be provided against possible abuse committed by the executive or by criminal prosecution authorities.

"In addition, restrictions imposed on individual freedoms in response to the terrorist threat must be limited to what is strictly necessary."

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