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Brussels in 'frightening' grab for personal information
Civil liberties and privacy are being eroded at a "breathtaking" rate by European Union governments, according to a report.
By Christopher Hope, Home Affairs Editor
Last Updated: 1:13AM BST 11 Sep 2008
Civil liberties watchdog Statewatch criticised the EU's post-9/11 security strategy as a "frightening" grab for every aspect of individual information.
The 60-page report - published on the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington - said that the EU now saw data privacy and judicial scrutiny of police surveillance tactics as obstacles to efficient law enforcement co-operation, rather than rights to be safeguarded.
The report, The Shape Of Things To Come, described a so-called EU "Future Group" preparing a new five-year security strategy as "shadowy".
It said that plans to co-operate with the US on "extremely controversial" techniques and technologies of surveillance and "enhanced" co-operation.
The group is accused of trying to harness a "digital tsunami" to aid law enforcement.
The Statewatch report quotes an EU Council of Ministers document on justice and security which declared: "Every object the individual uses, every transaction they make and almost everywhere they go will create a detailed digital record.
"This will generate a wealth of information for public security organisations, and create huge opportunities for more effective and productive public security efforts."
The report responds: "The implications of this statement are breath-taking. Across the EU, governments have, or are, adopting national laws for the mandatory retention of everyone's communications data - all forms of communication (phone calls, faxes, mobile calls including locations) which will be extended to keeping a record of all internet usage from 2009 - even though few are aware this is happening.
"This allows law enforcement and security agencies to get access to all traffic data - in the UK access is already automated."
The report goes on: "When traffic data including internet usage is combined with other data held by the state or gathered from non-state sources (tax, employment, bank details, credit card usage, biometrics, criminal record, health record, use of e-government services, travel history etc) a frightening detailed picture of each individual's everyday life and habits can be accessed at the click of a button."
The report adds: "The harnessing of the 'digital tsunami' by public security organisations means that expected behaviour can be assessed by 'machines' on the basis of which directions are given to state officials on the spot."
Statewatch says that, ever since 9/11, Washington has "got its way" on security policy to the detriment of privacy and protection data about EU citizens.
Statewatch director Tony Bunyan said: "EU standards have been by-passed or undermined and the USA has steadfastly refused to offer Europeans the equivalent level of privacy protection to US citizens."
On plans for the EU and Washington to now develop even closer co-operation across the entire justice and security policy area, he said: "It is hard to think of a greater danger to our privacy and civil liberties."
He called for a "meaningful debate" about the direction of EU justice and security policy, but warned: "There is now only a slim chance that the political elites in the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, national governments, the law enforcement agencies and the multinationals will change course - they have already invested too much to allow a meaningful public debate to take place."
Mr Bunyan said: "The national and European states require unfettered powers to access and gather masses of personal data on the everyday life of everyone in order so that we can all be safe and secure from perceived 'threats'.
"But how are we to be safe from the state itself, from its uses and abuses of the data they hold on us?"