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Europe

Europe Adopts New Counterterrorism Strategy

EU justice and interior ministers adopted on Thursday a new counterterrorism strategy, as Britain tried to push through tougher security legislation in the face of dogged opposition.

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The EU's new strategy is also aimed at the seeds of terrorism

Building on momentum from the Madrid train bombings in 2004 and the London public transport attacks on July 7, the strategy outlines security goals and ways to make the EU's aims more understandable to average Europeans.

But issues such as increasing police access to telephone and Internet data and allowing them to shut down extremist web sites remain unresolved, amid concerns over privacy rights.

"The strategy sets out our objectives to prevent new recruits to terrorism; better protect potential targets; pursue and investigate members of existing networks and improve our capability to respond to and manage the consequences of terrorist attacks," the ministers say in a draft copy of their conclusions.

The plan is based on four pillars: cutting the supply of terror recruits, protecting citizens and infrastructure, pursuing and investigating suspects, and responding to the consequences of an attack.

In an effort to stop people turning to terror, the bloc has an action plan to combat radicalisation and recruitment, which will include helping and encouraging democracy in northern Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Some of the measures though remain vague.

Bloc missing a common perception of a terror threat

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Some diplomats think the EU measures don't go far enough

The 25-member bloc's ministers say terrorists must be "deprived as far as possible of the opportunities offered by the Internet to communicate and spread technical expertise related to terrorism." But they fall short of French demands that member states be given the judicial tools to close down a suspect web site.

"The 25 don't all have the same perception about what constitutes a terrorist threat," one diplomat said, on condition of anonymity.

The ministers also agree on the need to retain telecommunications data, which greatly helped investigators track down suspects in the Madrid bombings in March 2004, which killed 191 people.

But they do not agree on how long the information should be kept or who should pay for the costs such an operation might incur.

European consensus still some distance away

A senior official from Britain, which holds the EU's rotating presidency until the end of the month, has acknowledged the hurdles that remain. "The range of views and the difficulty of the issues under examination mean that although I'm positive and hopeful, it's not at all certain that we will be able to reach agreement at the council," he said.

"There's a long range of issues which continue to generate discussion" on the telecommunications data alone, he said on condition of anonymity.

"They vary from retention periods, through the handling of costs, through access and how to regulate access to the information, to the question of how you do data retention and data security ... just to take a handful."

Questions remain over data retention and security

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Data retention and security is still a contentious issue

The measures would oblige businesses to keep details about callers, such as who they spoke to, where and when, and would apply to land telephone lines and mobile phones, text messages, and Internet protocols.

Police would not have access to the conversation or message itself.

London also wants information about unanswered communications kept -- a controversial demand as it would force the industry into extra spending.

Britain hopes to fast-track a European-wide package of anti-terror measures through the European Parliament, the EU's executive commission and the council of member states before the end of the year.

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