For most people, European Union legislation and Declarations by the Council of Ministers are an alternative to counting sheep when afflicted by insomnia, or are targets of tabloid media stories during the "silly season". Unfortunately, following the March 11th 2004 Madrid bombings, the EU seems to be about to implent some of the anti-terrorist measures which were proposed
in the aftermath of the attacks on 11th September 2001 in the USA.
This has serious implications for the personal liberty and privacy of the vast majority of innocent people in the European Union.
This is much more important than even the debates on the Euro currency.
Staewatch have published a paragraph by paragraph scoreboard analysis of the European Union's "Draft Declaration on Combating Terrorism 7486/4/04 REV 4" (.pdf) on post Madrid bombing anti-terrorist measures.
The Declaration and the amended Action Plan, the earlier version of which which we commented on previously is, apparently due to be rubber stamped at today's EU summit (25 - 26th March 2004 in Brussels), according to the article in the Guardian "EU set to agree sweeping counter-terror policies"
Staewatch's analysis claims that of the 57 proposals to be agreed today, that "27 of the proposals have little or nothing to do with tackling terrorism - they deal with crime in general and surveillance."
We agree with most of Statewatch's analysis, but, depressingly, we think that they have missed the significance of the inclusion of the word "DNA" into this draft - there is nothing in this Declaration which would prevent the wholesale sharing of DNA profiles or "forensic evidence" to every country in the EU.
This would not be of such a concern, except for the fact that in th UK, "DNA forensic evidence" is no longer restricted to criminals or convicts. Anybody who is arrested (even for motoring offences) and who is found innocent, or has the charges dropped, still has their DNA profiles kept forever on the National DNA Database (over 2 million profiles and growing). Astonishigly, even innocent people who have cooperated voluntarily to provide DNA samples to help catch a rapist or murderer, also have their DNA samples retained forever e.g. in the recent M25 serial rapist case, around 3500 people were sampled, and even though the culprit is now in jail, their samples are still being retained and are no longer destroyed as used to be the practice.
Just as with the notorious UK Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 and the Terrorism Act 2000, supposedly strictly anti-terrorist measures are going to be used for more general criminals and against political demonstrators.
"Priority should be given to the proposals under the retention of communication traffic data and exchange of information on convictions with a view to adoption by June 2005."
Given the UK Home Office's failure to agree the details of a workable scheme,or even one which is compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights, for the Retention of Communications Data after over 2 years of so called consultation with industry, and their spectacular failures with the Criminal Records Bureau IT systems, why should anybody believe that this is achievable, throughout the European Union by June 2005 ?
If these draconian anti-terrorist laws and Orwellian centralised databases are introduced to fight terrorism throughout the European Union, then the use of such measures must be restricted to proper anti-terrorist focussed investigations, and must not be used as a general surveillance tool against the public at large.
There must be criminal penalties available to prosecute those petty officials (anywhere in the European Union) who abuse these extraordinairy powers, and politicians must take polictical responsability for any dubious actions by their officials and agencies.
If the emergency services, armed forces and police forces are willing to risk their lives to counter terrorist attacks, then politicians should be willing to lay down their political careers if necessary, in order to enhance the trust of the public that the extraordinairy anti-terrorist measures are not being abused.
We must not build a high tech "rod for our own backs" by creating tools and institutions which although intended to counter terrorism today, could in the future be abused by a police state in some or all of the European Union.
This Declaration fails to address the existing deficiencies in the necessary checks and balsnces with the existing anti-terrorist laws and centralised databases, without which the necessary trust and cooperation from the public, especially from those minority communities who are being targeted as "supporters of terrorism" , should not be expected.
It is also significant, that this Declaration or Action Plan has no estimate of the cost to the EU taxpayers, even to the to the nearest billion euros, of these new anti-terrorist measures, either to set up these new institutions and centralised databases, or to continue running them in the future.