Friday, March 26, 2004

Knee-jerk responses

As a response to the Madrid bombings, the EU is holding an emergency counter-terrorism summit to agree on new security measures. Unfortunately, only about half the plans on the table have anything to do with actually fighting terrorism, the rest being a grab-bag of everyone's pet projects to strengthen police powers at the expense of liberty.

So for example we have the British proposal of maintaining "communications traffic data", which means databasing everyone's cellphone records and email routing information, as well as location-tracking data, to allow future data-mining to find terrorists (and god knows what else). Or requiring biometric identification in passports (which means universal fingerprinting). Or requiring airlines and other transport operators to share passenger information without any judicial oversight. Or the creation of a terrorist blacklist allowing funds to be frozen and travel restricted, with no requirement for a preliminary investigation and no judicial review to correct mistakes (the US already has such a list; the primary targets seem to be Greens, democrats, and other critics of the Bush administration; just imagine how Berlusconi will use one). The overall trend is one of increased surveillance and heightened police powers, a giant fishing expedition which will reduce people's privacy and civil liberties while doing SFA to actually fight terrorism.

How can this happen? Crooked Timber's Maria Farrell has a few choice words on the subject:

The JHA Council of Ministers is the ultimate in echo chambers; a place where unpopular justice ministers can gather with their brethern to agree on often draconian measures that are then presented to national parliaments as a fait accompli. Unless, of course, some party pooper uses their veto. [These] issues cut to the heart of state sovereignty because they are at the hard edge of differences about the role of citizens and the state. And these are the very issues that state representatives decide in secret, horse-trading with their European counterparts and flogging our liberties to the lowest bidder.

It's a perfect example of the need for greater democratic oversight in the EU. These decisions are simply too important to be made by authoritarians in secret.